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US Democracy Faces Gravest Danger

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Opinion by Alon Ben-Meir (new york)Thursday, January 06, 2022Inter Press Service

Righting the Wrong

On January 6, Trump was planning to hold a press conference during which he was expected to repeat lies for the hundredth time that the election in 2020 was stolen, that the insurrection a year ago was actually peaceful, and that he – not Biden – is the duly-elected president.

He canceled the press conference at the urging of the GOP and now is expected to instead spread these lies at his Arizona rally next week. He will, needless to say, remain true to himself and deny any wrongdoing and blame the Democrats for persistently undermining his presidency as well as for all the ills that face America today.

Trump is uniquely dangerous; he wants to solidify his absolute control over the Republican Party, rouse his followers, instill hatred of the Democrats, and of course raise enough money for his re-election campaign should he decide to run again.

Moreover, the Arizona rally will be his first foray into the mid-term elections designed to rouse the rank-and-file of the Republican Party to recapture the House and the Senate as the forerunner to the 2024 election.

The tragic aspect of the Trump phenomenon is that the elected leaders of the Republican Party continue to follow him religiously, regardless of the fact that he is corrupt, was defeated in re-election as an incumbent, was impeached twice, and faces several criminal charges.

Indeed, no former president in American history has been able to maintain his grip on his party the way Trump has. And no Republican Party has abdicated its moral and constitutional responsibilities and willingly succumbed to a deranged egomaniac, misogynist, and habitual liar. How could this happen, and why? The answer is Trump’s and the Republicans’ voracious lust for power.

The Republican Party has become a minority party and there is no circumstance under which the party can win nationally in a free and fair election. Demographically, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and other minorities currently represent more than 40 percent of the American population, and it is estimated that by 2045 they will become the majority, who largely vote for Democrats.

Collectively, even at the present they can deny the Republican Party from ever capturing the White House again if they go out and vote en masse.

The Republican Party faces two choices: one is to adapt to the changing demographic reality and develop socio-economic programs that respond to the needs of people of color (POC) without sacrificing much of their conservative ideology.

This includes lowering taxes, particularly for those who earn less than $200,000 a year, immigration reform, which the Republican Party has long-acknowledged needs addressing and will help in outreach especially to Hispanic voters, and supporting minority small business owners with tax breaks and other financial incentives, which won’t incur further government spending.

The second choice is to prevent or make it extremely difficult for POC to exercise their right to vote through a variety of deplorable measures. One state after another is passing discriminatory rules, including gerrymandering districts on racial lines, restricting early voting, which disproportionately affects Black Americans who are more likely than any other ethnic or racial group to cast early ballots (whether in-person or by mail and absentee ballots), enacting voter ID laws even though voter impersonation fraud is exceedingly rare and those who don’t have valid ID are disproportionately POC, and empower state legislators to invert their own elections and manipulate the electoral college to their advantage.

Sadly, if not tragically, the Republican Party went for the latter option. Many Republicans simply believe that POC are illegitimate citizens and should not be able to vote and have the power, as they fear accurately or otherwise, to enact laws against whites, the way whites have enacted discriminatory laws against POC. America, from their perspective, was founded by white people, and the thought that the US is becoming browner every passing day scares them to the core.

They needed a leader who is a bigot, shameless, and crude, with no scruples and no morals, but audacious—a performer with the ability to sway large audiences with his lies and sneering face. The Republicans need him to promote their agenda without fear of public repercussions, and he needs the party to satisfy his ego in order to exercise raw power, and also grant him its full support should he decide to run again.

We are still reeling from the violent storming of the Capitol on January 6 to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. Trump, who incited his followers to attack the Capitol, was ready to shatter our democracy only to bask in his authoritarian impulse.

What does that say about the Republican Party, which largely ignored or downplayed the insurrection in its determination to seize power and chose chaos and violence over voting, even at the expense of tearing our democratic institutions apart? How ironic and deeply troubling that 52 percent of Republicans say that the insurrectionists were trying to protect democracy.

The most ominous note that must be repeated loud and clear is that the party under the leadership of Trump will incite violence should they fail to win the 2022 election, as anyone who carefully listens to the many utterances spewed by reckless Republicans leaders can discern with clarity.

In that context, although Trump during his rally will not openly encourage his followers to resort to violence to undo the result of the election, the message to them will be loud and clear.

It is hard to exaggerate the transformation of the Republican Party since the rise of Trump in 2016, from a patriotic party that stood for democracy to a white supremacist party willing to destroy it only to stay in power.

Many thousands of Republican leaders should follow the footsteps of Representative Liz Cheney, who stood up against Trump and in favor of the truth, and still rescue our democracy by accepting reality and being truthful with their followers.

The election of Biden gave the country hope of preserving our democracy and attending to the political and social malaise that swept the nation, especially during Trump’s tenure in the White House. But to address these ills, the Democrats must spare no effort to hold onto the House and Senate in the 2022 mid-term election, as these will be the most consequential in more than a century.

Indeed, should the Republicans manage to recapture both chambers of Congress, our democracy will slide toward the precipice of disintegration while authoritarianism creeps in, and Biden’s agenda will be shattered.

The Democrats have their work cut out for them. They must rise in unison, which is bitterly still missing, stop short of nothing to strengthen voting rights, prevent the appointment of partisans to subvert the election, fight political corruption at every level, make political power decreasingly dependent on money, get out the vote, and eliminate the filibuster to pass the voting rights bill.

Furthermore, they must hold accountable the traitors behind the insurrection on January 6, including Trump.

Democrats and the millions of law-abiding Republicans should sound the alarm before it’s too late, and never waver to preserve and protect America’s 244-year-old democracy that served as a beacon of hope and freedom to the global community.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a retired professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU). He taught courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies for over 20 years.


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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Original Post: globalissues.org

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Attacking Iran Is a Recipe for a Catastrophe

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Opinion by Alon Ben-Meir (new york)Monday, January 31, 2022Inter Press Service

Righting the Wrong

Israel’s repeated threats to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities irrespective of any outcome in the negotiations in Vienna between the P5+1 (France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, the US, and Germany) and Iran is a recipe for disaster.

Prime Minister Bennett’s argument that Israel will not abide by any agreement, not only because Israel is not a party in the negotiations but because Israel alone will determine what’s best to safeguard its national security, is a fallacy.

Given the complexity and the far-reaching implications of a potential Israeli attack, the only proper path to address Iran’s nuclear program is by fully coordinating and developing a joint strategy with the US to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambition to acquire nuclear weapons while seeking an end to the conflict.

It is critical that the Bennett-Lapid government not repeat Netanyahu’s disastrous mistake of opposing the JCPOA, which subsequently Netanyahu persuaded Trump to withdraw from altogether. As a result of the US’ withdrawal from the deal, Iran has only advanced its nuclear weapons program—enriching a significant amount of uranium to 60 percent, which is only a short leap to enriching it to weapons-grade 90 percent, and in enough quantity to produce one nuclear weapon in short order.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said recently, “The reason we’re in the situation we’re in right now is because the previous administration pulled out of the Iran deal and we are paying the wages of that catastrophic mistake.”

Bennett’s repeated threats to attack Iran could lead to miscalculation and dire unintended consequences that Israel cannot possibly cope with on its own. Israel must work hand-in-hand with the US to address Iran’s nuclear program now and in the future, and must not resort to a military option without the full support of the US.

The Bennett government must carefully consider the ominous outcome such an attack could precipitate, from which Israel as well as the entire region will suffer unimaginably.

The ominous repercussions of an Israeli attack

Israel’s repeated threats are unwise and do nothing but provide Iran ample time to prepare for any contingency. Mossad director David Barnea recently stated that “Iran will not have nuclear weapons—not in the coming years, not ever. This is my personal commitment: This is the Mossad’s commitment.”

Knowing the Iranian mindset, such a statement is counterproductive and does nothing but stiffen Iran’s position. Even if Israel is planning such an attack, advertising it repeatedly in advance drastically undermines its effectiveness.

Iran is already fortifying its air defenses, especially around its nuclear facilities, and putting in place offensive capabilities that can exact a heavy price from Israel should such an attack materialize. Indeed, Israel can inflict a devastating blow on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but it cannot destroy all of them nor the Iranian knowhow. Such an attack, however overwhelming, would only set back Iran’s nuclear program for two to three years.

It is a given that an Israeli attack would force Tehran to retaliate directly against Israel by firing ballistic missiles that can reach major Israeli cities, potentially causing widespread destruction and thousands of casualties. Iran will also ensure that Hezbollah, which is in possession of 150,000 rockets, will enter the fray and fire thousands of rockets that can reach every corner of the country.

Regardless of how effective Israel’s air defense may be, its Iron Dome and Arrow interceptors cannot possibly intercept tens of thousands of short, medium, and long-range rockets. Moreover, Hamas too may well join the fight, in addition to a third front with Syria, from where Iranian proxies will attack Israel. Israel’s economy will be shattered, and past conflagrations with Hamas alone attest to this fact.

Many Israeli military experts believe that Israel does not have the aerial capability to attack Iran more than once, nor can it destroy all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, as they are scattered around the country and several are built a hundred or more feet underground. It will require several days and multiple attacks, which Israel does not have the capability to conduct.

Although all the Arab Gulf states would like to see Iran’s nuclear facilities eliminated, they want to avoid a war because even a limited Israeli attack could engulf the entire region and beyond. In many conversations I had with officials from the Gulf, nearly all of them prefer containment of Iran’s nuclear program and deterrence spearheaded by the US to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to ensure that Iran will be unable to threaten or intimidate its neighbors.

Finally, whereas Israeli attacks on Iraq’s and Syria’s nuclear facilities (in 1981 and 2007, respectively) did not spread radioactive material into the atmosphere because no uranium was present, Iran has a stockpile of uranium purified to various degrees. Thus, an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would have disastrous environmental consequences.

From the Iranian perspective, acquiring nuclear weapons would deter any aggressor, including the US, from attacking it. Iran wants to stand on equal footing with Sunni Pakistan to its east and Jewish Israel to its west, both of whom are nuclear powers.

This partly explains why Iran does not bend easily and why it is assuming such a hard position at the negotiations in Vienna, even though it wants badly to have the sanctions lifted to salvage its ailing economy.

The need for a full US-Israeli collaboration

Attacking Iran without the US’ acquiescence, if not outright support, will seriously undermine Israel-US relations which Jerusalem cannot afford. Collaboration and coordination between the two countries is and will remain central in dealing effectively with Iran.

This is particularly important because the Iranian clergy wants to avoid any military confrontation with the US, fearing a disastrous outcome. Indeed, a US military assault on Iran could precipitate regime change, which the Iranian leadership fears the most and wants to prevent at any cost.

For this reason, to deter Iran, it is critical for the Bennett-Lapid government to work closely with the Biden administration and support any new agreement that may be reached between Iran and the P5+1. The Biden administration is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and Israel must trust the US to do whatever necessary to that end, especially because Israel cannot and must not act alone.

The failure or the success to reach a new agreement

Should the P5+1 fail to reach a new agreement, the US and Israel must develop a joint strategy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons based on containment and deterrence. This includes the imposition of additional crippling sanctions, cyber-attacks on vital Iranian installations, and sabotaging its nuclear facilities, among other disabling measures.

In addition, the US should make it clear that all options are on the table, including military force, which could pose a significant risk of regime change, which terrifies Iran. In addition, the US should seriously consider a strategic game-changer move by providing a nuclear umbrella to cover Israel and the Gulf states.

Should a new agreement be reached, which seems increasingly likely, it will be expected to include rolling back the number of operational centrifuges and reducing the quantity and the enrichment quality of uranium, while extending the sunset clauses beyond the original dates to prevent Iran from resuming its nuclear weapons program within a few years. In addition, a new deal will obviously restore the most stringent and infallible monitoring system to thwart Iran from cheating.

Beyond these measures, however, the US must strive to end the conflict with Iran on a more permanent basis. The Biden administration ought to initiate back-channel talks to address Iran’s nefarious regional activity, its arming and financially aiding of extremist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, its ballistic missile program, and its hegemonic ambitions.

In addition, due to Israel’s profound and legitimate concerns about its national security, the Biden administration must make it unequivocally clear to Iran that it must end its repeated existential threats against Israel. Iran’s clergy must understand that such threats could precipitate a disastrous conflagration—intentional or unintentional—that could engulf the entire region from which Iran will suffer greatly.

In return, if Iran embraces such a moderate path, the US should promise publicly that it will not seek now or at any time in the future regime change, which for the clergy is a do-or-die proposition. Moreover, the US would embark on a gradual normalization of relations on all fronts.

To be sure, when there is a breakdown in any conflict there is often an opportunity for a breakthrough. Iran does not want to remain a pariah state and always be on the defensive, and the US and Israel will be much better off if Iran joins the community of nations as a constructive player on the international stage.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a retired professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU). He taught courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies for over 20 years.
[email protected]www.alonben-meir.com


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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Original Source: globalissues.org

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Team From UN Mission in Colombia Attacked, Vehicles Torched

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Friday, January 28, 2022UN News

In a statement, the mission condemned the attack suffered by its local team in Puerto Nuevo, Guaviare, when it was carrying out a joint mission with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and a non-governmental organization. 

The joint mission, made up of three vehicles, was heading to the rural area of Guayabero to meet with communities in the area, when they were approached by armed individuals who made them get out of the vehicles.

Two of the three vehicles were incinerated a few minutes later at the scene. 

Bogotá, Colombia’s capital., by Unsplash/Claus Pacheco

The UN Mission reiterated its concern over continuing acts of violence in so-called priority areas for the implementation of the 2016 Peace Agreement with FARC rebels, and condemned any attempts to intimidate UN and humanitarian staff, by armed groups. 

The UN will continue to support Colombians in their efforts to consolidate peace in the country, the mission said.

Security Council

On Thursday, the Security Council reiterated its full and unanimous support for the peace process in Colombia.

In a statement, the Council Members highlighted the fifth anniversary of the Final Peace Agreement, celebrated in November of last year. 

They echoed the Secretary-General’s observation, when visiting the country during the anniversary, that “historic progress” was “taking root” but also that “formidable challenges” remain. 

The members also welcomed the way in which the anniversary “led to renewed focus by all parties on the need to consolidate this progress and address these challenges.”

As Colombia prepares for congressional and presidential elections, the Council stressed the importance of taking the necessary steps to ensure safe, peaceful and inclusive participation, including the full, equal and meaningful participation of women. 

They also reiterated their concern regarding the persistent threats, attacks and killings targeting former FARC-EP members, as well as community and social leaders, including women and those from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities.

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News

Article: globalissues.org

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When Will Countries Ever Learn How Well to Do Fuel Subsidy Reforms?

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View of downtown Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan. Credit: World Bank/Shynar JetpissovaOpinion by Alan Gelb, Anit Mukherjee (washington dc)Friday, January 28, 2022Inter Press Service

Amid alarming reports of deadly violence in Kazakhstan, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Asia called for restraint and dialogue. 6 January 2022

Protestors are out on the streets, clashing violently with security forces called in to maintain law and order. They vent their frustration not only with rising fuel prices but also with living costs, lack of social services, crumbling infrastructure, corruption and political repression.

Faced with the prospect of a popular uprising, the government backtracks on reforms and re-institutes subsidies, postponing the hard decisions for a later date.

This is Kazakhstan in 2022. It is also Ecuador in 2019, Nigeria in 2012, Bolivia in 2010, Indonesia in 2005 and several other energy exporters which have tried to end, or at least reduce, fuel subsidies over the last two decades.

The list will grow significantly if we include importers who are more exposed to the vagaries of international energy prices. What is interesting is that the story plays out in almost exactly the same way, and the consequences of both action – and inaction – are very similar as well.

For resource rich countries like Kazakhstan, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nigeria, subsidized energy, especially from fossil fuels, is one of the few tangible ways by which citizens can feel that they have a claim to a national resource.

While the level of subsidies varies, at some $228 dollars per head or 2.6% of GDP in 2020, those of Kazakhstan are high but not the highest among exporters. In a situation where the government is generally perceived to be repressive, incompetent and corrupt, food and fuel subsidies keep a lid on deeper grievances. It is economically damaging but politically expedient, a delicate equilibrium that many countries have sought to manage over the last several decades – with little success.

Our research has shown that there is a better way to do energy subsidy reform. Providing direct cash transfers to compensate for the rise in energy prices can be a “win-win” solution. To put it simply, energy compensatory transfers (ECT) enable households, especially the poor and the vulnerable, to absorb the shock and reallocate resources as per their needs.

By removing the arbitrage between subsidized and market prices, ECTs can also reduce corruption, improve distribution and incentivize efficient use of energy. Countries like Iran, India, Jordan and the Dominican Republic have been relatively successful in this type of reform, and their experience holds lessons for other countries that choose to embark on this path.

Digital technology can help significantly to identify beneficiaries, provide them necessary guidance and information, and transfer payments directly to individuals and households. Three key enablers of ECTs are an identification system with universal coverage of the population, strong communications and wide access to financial accounts.

Multiple databases can be cross-checked to verify eligibility norms and grievance redressal systems can help reduce exclusion of genuine beneficiaries. As shown, for example, by India’s LPG subsidy reform, countries can progressively tighten the eligibility criteria over time to target the poorest sections of the population.

Finally, ECTs can provide the impetus for a more transparent and accountable system of subsidy management, helping improve public confidence and support to the government’s reform agenda over the long run.

So, why don’t more countries follow this approach? For one, most energy subsidy reforms are pushed forward in times of economic crisis. ECTs require political commitment, openness to engage in public dialogue, building consensus among stakeholders and powerful vested interests, setting up implementation systems and working across different government ministries, departments and agencies.

Direct compensation is also more transparent than the frequently opaque systems of price subsidization that favor the rich, with their higher energy consumption, even if justified by the need to protect the poor.

ECTs are not simple solutions and often require time to be put in place. On the surface, it may seem simpler to just raise energy prices overnight through an administrative order. But the payoffs are significant in terms of sustainability, economic outcomes, social cohesion and political stability.

The sooner countries can take a longer term approach, the better will they be able to manage the transition to a more sustainable system that supports those who need it most.

Kazakhstan is the first country in 2022 to see popular unrest due to fuel price hike. It almost certainly would not be the last.

Anit Mukherjee is a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. Alan Gelb is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.


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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service


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