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Iran sanctions may end dollar’s domination of world economy

Sadik Ünay

Historical experience in international politics confirms that economic sanctions rarely produce the specific policy outcomes intended by the imposing actors. The new set of economic sanctions to be imposed by the Donald Trump administration against Iran as of Nov. 4 will probably not constitute an exception to this general rule; however, there is a serious possibility they might produce totally unintended outcomes by triggering the formation of a new international banking architecture thanks to the initiatives of the EU, Britain, Russia and China, searching for innovative ways of averting the sanctions via a prospective system called the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV).

When it was concluded in 2015, the crux of the Tehran agreement on the nuclear deal with Iran was based on restraining the nuclear program in return for a gradual relaxation of comprehensive sanctions that had crippled its economy over the course of several years.

Obviously, both the more compromising political atmosphere prevalent in the international community and the power balance in American domestic politics favoring liberal values were more radical than what we observe today. The nuclear deal was tensely negotiated between Iran and six world powers – namely the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – for almost two years during the President Barack Obama administration and was hailed as a great success aimed at reintegrating Tehran into the global political and economic system. The “Trump effect” on the nuclear deal led to a total rejection on the part of the US, citing the agreement as flawed in that it did not curb Iran’s ballistic missiles program or its support for proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.

The decision to restore comprehensive economic sanctions on Iran, including those that seek to force its major oil customers to stop buying Iranian crude, were in conjunction with a series of provocative foreign policy decisions taken by the Trump administration; however, despite the odds, the remaining parties of the Iran nuclear deal, namely Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, reached an agreement to maintain trade with Tehran by developing alternative payment mechanisms, such as the SPV, despite strong objections from Washington.

It seems likely that the SPV model will reflect an updated and more sophisticated version of the Soviet barter system, which was extensively used during the Cold War to avert US trade sanctions.

The European Union, Iran, China and Russia will be the initial stakeholders to allow the trade of Iranian oil in exchange for goods without any financial transactions with Iranian banks or conventional banking institutions. Emerging powers such as India and Turkey have also expressed their willingness to join the pact in future stages.

To this end, a multinational European state-funded financial institution would be set up for intermediate deals with private companies interested in handling transactions with Iran and related counter-parties. There is no doubt that the SPV initiative represents an extraordinary collective response to the aggressive unilateralism and unambiguous adoption of trade wars by the Trump administration.

While Washington has called for a policy of all-out financial war against Iran and threatened to sanction even European central banks and the Brussels-based SWIFT interbank payments network if they maintained transactions with Tehran, the EU responded by asserting its policy autonomy and triggered the formation of an alternative banking architecture. How far the EU is willing to go to defy Washington’s restrictions on trade with Iran remains to be seen.

This incident might stimulate a broader strategic divergence between the US and the EU through which European economies try to insulate themselves from the effects of illegal extraterritorial sanctions predominantly imposed by the US. It is therefore not surprising to see Germany and France seeking to extend the SPV mechanism to other cases as an economic sovereignty tool that would protect European companies from illegal extraterritorial sanctions.

Consequently, the reckless policies of the Trump administration designed to punish certain actors and raise tension in global geopolitics might well be producing results that directly contradict their original intentions. Washington’s hasty decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal and impose comprehensive sanctions on companies trading Iranian crude as of Nov. 4 seems to have created new venues for international cooperation among the rest of the global and emerging powers.  The EU’s latest SPV and similar initiatives designed to legally avoid the use of US dollars in the oil trade and avert unilateral US sanctions might just spell the beginning of a new era in the dollar-dominated global economic system.

 

 

 

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US midterm elections: Trump’s agenda at stake

Michael Hernandez

With just four days until millions of Americans head to polling stations across the US, President Donald Trump is on a mission. Trump is set to continue a campaign blitz in battleground states pivotal to Republican success in the US midterm elections that will see him embark on trips to Montana and Florida on Saturday and Georgia and Tennessee on Sunday.

The intense electoral push will be capped on the eve of the Nov. 6 polls when Trump will visit three states in one day – Ohio, Indiana and Missouri – in a sign of how important these races are for a president seeking to fulfill his legislative agenda with just two years left on his first, and possibly sole, term.   The president’s travel schedule is based on internal White House planning first made public by Bloomberg and is subject to change.  But parts of the schedule that have already come to pass have squared with the president’s visits.

Republicans currently hold a razor-thin one-seat majority in the Senate, and while their hold on the House of Representatives is far firmer, it is most threatened in that chamber.  The party and the president can ill-afford to lose either part of the bicameral legislature. Every House member’s seat will be up for grabs in this fall’s elections, as will just over one-third of Senate seats.

Whether Trump will prove to be a boon or an albatross for the Republicans is unclear amid predictions of a possible blue wave, or massive legislative inroads for the Democratic Party. Democrats are seeking to seize on discontent that has fomented among some segments of American society following Trump’s successful 2016 White House bid, particularly those who take issue with his personal life, controversial policies — notably his hardline immigration crackdown and efforts to roll back the US’s universal healthcare law — and unorthodox approach to the American presidency. With less than a week until Americans cast their ballots, the Pew Research Center found that wide segments of both Republican partisans –  73 percent – and their Democratic counterparts – 77 percent – say which party controls Congress is a factor in how they vote.

Each group of partisans expects their party to control the House of Representatives following the midterms, with 77 percent of Democrats saying they expect their party will control the chamber following the polls, compared to 82 percent of Republicans who expect the same. Pew tracked what it said is the highest level of voter enthusiasm in the past two decades as over two-thirds – 67 percent – of Democrats say they are more enthusiastic than normal. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans say the same. Trump continues to loom large for registered voters, with 60 percent of voters saying he will factor into how they cast their ballots. Well over a third of voters – 37 percent – say their vote will be against him, compared to just 23 percent who said it will be for him.

Republicans likely to remain in control of the Senate: In all, 35 seats are being contested in the Senate – 33 of which are being contested under normal Senate rules, in addition to two which are being contested because the incumbents, both Republicans, are retiring: Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Normally, one-third, or about 33, seats are contested every two years.

Flake’s seat continues to be tightly contested in a race between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally. Sinema holds a narrow 6-point lead in the contest. The Republican seeking to succeed Corker, Marsha Blackburn, holds about the same margin over her Democratic challenger, Phil Bredesen.

Real Clear Politics, a polling aggregator website, counts six toss-up seats in the 100-member chamber with four of those seats held by Democrat incumbents. Republicans have a lock on 46 seats that are either safely Republican or are not up for election compared to just 37 for Democrats. Meanwhile, seven seats are either likely to go Democrat or lean Democrat, compared to four for Republicans. The Senate’s two Independents caucus with the Democrats, and both are expected to keep their seats.

Democrats face good odds in taking the House of Representatives: In the 435-member House, however, the likelihood that Republicans will maintain their hold is increasingly in doubt. Either party will need to claim a 218-seat majority to control the chamber, a challenge that may prove insurmountable for Republicans.

The party currently holds a 43-seat advantage in the House but is facing serious challenges to 30 seats it currently controls. Only four such tight races are for seats held by Democratic incumbents.  In addition to those 34 races, Democrats appear likely to take four seats from Republicans with an additional 11 currently held by Republicans now leaning Democratic.

Should Democrats take either chamber, that would mark a major upset for the president, who is seeking to round out his four-year term with major legislative victories, particularly long-promised immigration initiatives such as his border wall with Mexico and a repeal of former President Barack Obama’s universal healthcare law.  Democrats have staunchly opposed his agenda, particularly his efforts to curtail immigration and fully repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Should Democrats take either, or possibly both chambers, Trump would be forced to come to terms with a legislature no longer in the hands of his political allies.

At least 65 Muslims running for office across nation: In addition to the federal legislature, Americans will be voting on dozens of state governors and troves of other local officials and referendums. Across the nation, at least 65 Muslim-Americans are in the running for a variety of state, local and federal posts, according to Jetpac, a nonprofit working to increase Muslim-American civic engagement.

That is up from the nonprofit’s previous estimates of around 40 candidates as more individuals have been found in contests that are relatively lower on electoral ballots and garner less media attention.  In all, at least 128 Muslim-Americans ran for office in this election cycle, the highest number since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, according to Shaun King, Jetpac’s co-founder and executive director.

 

 

 

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Privatising the Afghan war is dangerous – and more likely than you think

Arif Rafiq

The longest war in US history could be about to get worse as private companies compete to take up more combat duties.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince has resurfaced once again in Afghanistan.

In September, the private military contractor met with the Afghan intelligence chief and interior minister and a broad spectrum of power brokers—from “lowly militia commanders” to “several potential presidential candidates,” according to the New York Times—to pitch his plan for privatising the American war in Afghanistan.

The Prince plan for Afghanistan calls for replacing US and NATO-country military personnel with 3,600 private contractors, who would be embedded with 100 Afghan security “units” for two to four years. These contractors would provide a full range of services, from air support to logistics and medical assistance.

According to Prince, the plan ultimately shifts the burden of fighting on the American side from active-duty US military personnel to private contractors—and at much lower financial and political costs. Prince, who has been trying to sell his plan for more than a year, now says he could turn the war around in six months.

There is little institutional support for Prince’s plan, especially in the US Department of State and the Pentagon. But Prince has been persistent in evangelising for his plan, going on a media blitz and, most recently, hiring a lobbyist.

Prince is persistent because he knows that US President Donald Trump hates the options for Afghanistan being put on his table and remains a wild card. He’s exploiting Trump’s twin beliefs that the Afghanistan war is unwinnable, and that the US should somehow profit from Afghanistan’s vast mineral deposits—valued at one point at $1 trillion.

While it is presently unlikely that Prince’s plan will be realised, given Trump’s unpredictability and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, it is important to consider a scenario that would make the Prince plan a possible option for the Trump administration.

That scenario could come sooner rather than later as Trump is reportedly considering the announcement of a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. The announcement, according to Newsweek, could be made this autumn and a withdrawal might begin as early as 2020.

Last year, Trump reluctantly green-lighted the so-called South Asia Strategy, which — at least, on paper — did away with timetables, modestly increased troop levels in Afghanistan and ramped up the use of air power against the Taliban and Daesh.

But the strategy quickly hit a dead end. Violence and the drug trade in Afghanistan continue to break record highs.

The Taliban continues to gain territory, and Afghan security forces are now retreating as their casualties climb.

In less than a year’s time, Trump has effectively abandoned the South Asia Strategy, and his administration has pivoted toward talks.

With the appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad as special envoy for reconciliation in Afghanistan, the administration has signalled its seriousness about the dialogue process.

However, attempts at reviving the US-Taliban dialogue come at a point of political transition in Afghanistan. The country just held parliamentary elections, and presidential elections are a mere six months away.

There is a high probability that the presidential polls will be fraught with the fraud and mismanagement witnessed in every previous election in Afghanistan. A political impasse of some sort is likely. And this is when the Prince plan could re-enter the discussion.

Let’s fast forward to May 2019 and imagine a scenario in which political and security conditions continue to deteriorate in Afghanistan. The Taliban consolidates control over southern Afghanistan as the country is in a political crisis, with allegations of fraud in the April presidential elections.

US talks with the Taliban hit a dead end too, as there is a power vacuum in Kabul. Trump, completely fed up with a war he never wanted to fight, announces in a tweet that the US will begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan.

It would be a decision few in his government would support, but they would have no choice but to accept and work to implement.

The US national security bureaucracy would then be forced to address the challenge of confronting terrorism threats in Afghanistan, with no military footprint, and Afghanistan’s political system and security forces fracture. The war would then have to be fought exclusively in the grey zone—by intelligence operatives, special operations forces, contractors, and local militias.

Erik Prince could enter here, leveraging his history with the US intelligence community and relations with a broad set of Afghan powerbrokers and local strongmen.

Prince has already been working these channels, meeting with Ghani’s rivals, including northern strongman Atta Noor, whom Prince met in Dubai last December.

Prince also met with Ghani’s interior minister and intelligence chief, showing the powerlessness of the Afghan president, who condemned the Blackwater founder’s privatised war plan.

Not only was Prince given a visa to visit Afghanistan, but he also received a soft in-studio interview on TOLO News, Afghanistan’s largest private news channel — indicating how deep his ties into the Afghan power elite go.

Trump’s plan A for Afghanistan was his “South Asia Strategy.” In less than a year, he pivoted toward direct talks with the Taliban, which became his plan B. Should the talks and elections fail, Prince could factor in a backup plan not just for the Trump administration, but also various Afghan power brokers who were wedded together by the US and the international community.

It’s precisely in this type of a murky scenario that someone like Prince seeks and thrives upon.

Prince has rebranded himself as a full-spectrum provider of services in high-risk, frontier energy and mining markets—hence his company’s name: Frontier Services Group (FSG).

He has positioned himself as a problem solver—someone who can lower the risk surrounding extractive industries in markets plagued by insecurity and misgovernance, providing logistics and security services with a local government or foreign investor would not be able to and even offering insurance services.

But Prince’s business practices deepen the institutional and societal weaknesses in these markets. In civil war-plagued South Sudan, for example, he attempted to use secret front companies to build a private air force for the country’s ruler—without informing American executives at FSG, which already had a logistics and security contract with the government.

What Prince is ultimately angling for in these markets—including Afghanistan—is equity in an energy or mining concession, but his business model works by virtue of being a security provider.

In Afghanistan, we could see Prince come to an understanding with Noor and other regional power brokers in Afghanistan, enabling his mercenary forces to operate in Kabul and Mazar-i Sharif, ostensibly to target militants affiliated with Al Qaeda and Daesh.

Prince could operate in tacit cooperation with the US intelligence community. Perhaps a non-Western government with an eye on Afghanistan’s mineral resources could pay the bills.

Prince, bearing none of the financial risks, could then try to muster together an agreement between foreign investors and Afghan warlords, and get a piece of a mining concession for rare minerals.

Even if the mining concession never materialises, Prince makes a killing.

Preventing such an unlikely scenario from becoming realistic would require progress on two fronts: the US-Taliban talks and the political transition in Afghanistan, which will be capped by presidential elections in April.

The stakes for the Afghan people and regional states are quite high, for a Prince of darkness lurks.

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From Helmut Kohl’s ‘little girl’ to the most powerful woman in the world

Abdulaziz Ahmet Yasar

Angela Merkel was Germany’s first-ever female chancellor, and she remained so for over 13 years. Not only will she be a major chapter in Germany’s history books, but she rose to become one of the world’s most influential leaders of the last decade.

That’s how fast things can change.  As late as this morning, most German Christian Democrats believed that at the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party conference in December the old leader would also be the new CDU leader: Angela Merkel.  Half a day later, it is all but certain that Merkel will no longer take office.

However, the German chancellor wants to remain head of government until the end of the legislative period.  Merkel has given the CDU the freedom of selecting new personnel, something that has seldom existed for the Christian Democrats, and paves the way for a new candidate for chancellor for the first time since 2002.

One thing is certain: nobody can predict how this might end. Merkel’s extraordinary and lengthy career will be remembered for a long time by German and European leaders. “I don’t want to be a half-dead wreck when I leave politics,” she had said before becoming chancellor, and lately Merkel, and her coalition, look tired.

Former CDU Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s ‘Little Girl’ (1990-2000) On January 18, 1991, the 36-year-old member of parliament Angela Merkel was sworn in as federal minister for women and youth in the cabinet by Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl.  This was her first major political position.

Her term in office resulted in the Equal Opportunities Act, which aimed at improving the status of women professionals.  Angela Merkel was also responsible for ensuring that every child in Germany has a legal right to have a place in a kindergarten – which was a major step forward for mothers and fathers in the West German Federal regions at the time. During this time she also attended the first UN Climate Conference in Berlin in 1995, which was the country’s first commitment to international CO2 reduction.

CDU Chairwoman and Oppositional Leader (2000-2005) Angela Merkel became deputy chairman of the CDU in 1991 and rose to take the lead the party by 2000.  After the 2002 Bundestag elections, she also became chairwoman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the German Bundestag.

As the leader of the opposition, she pushed through changes to the Schroder government economic reform plan, ‘Agenda 2010’, in parliament and was a part of the mediation process between the Bundestag and the Bundesrat (Federal Council of Germany). First female German chancellor (since 2005)

In the early Bundestag elections in September 2005, Angela Merkel beat then Social Democratic chancellor Gerhard Schroder. Just a few years after taking office, the financial crisis hit global markets, including the EU and Germany.  One of her first major tests in office came in 2010 in the form of the European Debt Crisis, when several eurozone member states were unable to repay or refinance their government debt. Merkel’s policies and actions reacting to the crisis solidified Germany’s status as a central character, or primary leader, in the EU.

Budgetary discipline, solidarity and incentives for more growth were Merkel’s mantra. But she also paved the way for unconventional internal policies too. Following the Fukushima reactor disaster, the German government decided to entirely phase out nuclear energy.

In order to push ahead with the energy revolution, the expansion of the grid was accelerated and renewable energies were promoted by the CDU/CSU governments. Germany’s renewable energy production currently represents as much as 36 percent of its total energy production and the country aims to be at 65 percent by 2030. Wir schaffen das!  (We can do it!) – was her slogan when it came to dealing with the European ‘refugee crisis’. When the civil war escalated in Syria, triggering a flood of refugees to Europe, Merkel became known as the “refugee chancellor”.  She refused to close German borders, which earned her plaudits from civil society and leaders across the world.

In Germany, however, the number of her critics is growing – not only from the right-wing AfD, but also from within her own party.  German conservatives and right-wing voters are increasingly dissatisfied with the CDU’s policies and have been slowly pushing for a change at the top. In her 19th year as party leader, Merkel repeatedly clashed with CSU leader Horst Seehofer.

For him, Merkel’s asylum policy has not been strict enough since 2015.  The already tense relationship is suffering as a result. In 2018, the situation escalated into a political crisis when Seehofer demanded that Germany reject refugees at the border and Merkel refused. Seehofer offered his resignation and Merkel made several compromises to keep him in government, but the border remains open. Seehofer remains interior minister.

After 13 years as chancellor and 18 years as CDU leader, Merkel might be fatigued – something that could have been compounded by the strengthening of the right-wing AfD and the rise of right-wing populism across the world. After the Hessian election in October, in which the CDU lost more than ten percentage points, Merkel announced that she will no longer run as party leader.

That was the first half of a farewell speech; it was the great entrance into the great exit. Angela Merkel had repeatedly said in recent years that one of her most difficult decisions was to find the right time to stop.  Now it looks like the Merkel era is finally coming to an end.

 

 

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The Great March of Return, a hope for Gazans

Ali Abo Rezeg

For the 30th week in a row, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have taken part in the weekly protests dubbed the “Great March of Return,” in the strip’s northern areas along the security fence with Israel.

The protests, which recently included sea demonstrations, demand the renowned right of return be implemented to allow millions of Palestinians return to the areas and villages from where they were driven out of in 1948 as a result of the massacres that had been committed by the Zionist gangs of Haganah and Irgun against thousands of Palestinians.

The Gazan protesters call for an immediate end to the 12-year-long Israeli sea, land, and air blockade that has crippled life in the coastal enclave and brought it to the verge of collapse. According to official data, Gaza’s poverty rate is among the highest in the world with roughly 80 percent of Gazans falling beneath the poverty line and unemployment reaching 50 percent.

Even Gaza’s water is not safe for human use. People there are also suffering from massive power shortages; they only get electricity four hours a day, which badly affects services like sewage-treatment plants. Even the blockaded strip’s only means of access to the outdoor world, the ill-famed Rafah border crossing, has been for some time closed throughout the year except for infrequent openings by the Egyptian authorities. That makes Gaza, with a population of 2 million people, the biggest prison in the world.

The idea of the Great March of Return was creative, by showing the absent character of the Palestinian freedom fighter via a peaceful struggle. This kind of struggle managed to widely embarrass the Israeli state. Thus, the weekly marches portrayed Israel as a fully rouge state with forces shooting unarmed and innocent demonstrators despite the protests being broadcast live by the world’s prominent media outlets.

Many Palestinian and Arab commentators argue that the importance of the weekly protests, staged close to the buffer zone, stem from being the last chance for people in Gaza to break the siege that has lasted for more than a decade. To a great extent, I agree with this point of view and currently the weekly protests represent the biggest hope for breaking the 12-year long siege; they should be utilized as a starting point for reviving the Palestinians’ right of return.

Being in a region full of crises and conflicts –turmoil in Egypt, Syrian war, Yemeni war, tumult in Libya and the Gulf crisis – the issue of the Gaza blockade had been marginalized and no longer a priority for the Arab peoples before their regimes. Therefore, the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip felt that they themselves had to take the initiative, drawing the entire world’s attention to their longstanding suffering that culminated in the Great March of Return, which managed to put the forgotten blockade issue in the news again. The Arab world, alas, became not only busy with their own causes but also a part of the blockade problem. In the past, any Arab regime that was not supporting the Palestinian cause, was, at least, a neutral actor in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

These days, we see many Arab regimes – with no ties to Israel in public – assuming antagonizing policies that demonize the Palestinian people and their cause.

Needless to say, some Arab regimes are acting these days as godfather for the expected controversial peace deal, known as the “Deal of the Century,” which prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say early this year that “Israel ties with Arab countries are improving beyond imagination.” Moreover, any military escalation will not serve the Gazan’s interests these days. People in the Gaza Strip have had very bad experiences with the military choices Israel resorted to in three consecutive attacks against Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014.

The Palestinians don’t have the capability to mount a military defense against Israel nor the ability to break the siege and they have no power to start or end any military operation. Rather, the international superpowers are on the Israeli side and, as mentioned earlier, the Arab situation around them is in turmoil. Amid such an Arab situation and limited Palestinian capabilities, it is fair to suppose that the Great March of Return may amount to the Gazan’s biggest hope to break the unjust blockade.

At the same time, periodically staging protests for the right of return will sooner or later inspire the people of the West Bank, Palestinians living inside Israel, and the Palestinian refugees abroad to organize in protests as well, with a view to establishing permanent pressure on Israel to accept the demands of Palestinian refugees.

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Defaulting on borrowed credibility: Fraudulent crowdfunding

Ibrahim Altay

In the rapid pace of everyday news fueled by the haste of modern day-to-day lives, it is hard to keep track of the recent. Relevance is an ever shrinking supply nowadays showcased by the term of “15 minutes of fame.”

The shorter attention spans of society and the media can be considered an ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail, constantly feeding each other. However, that does not absolve the media of the responsibility of keeping track of recent history. It is an understandable problem, with the constant feed of new stories flowing in front of editors, it compel them to jump on to new things, especially when old news finds itself little audience.

But as I always say, being a journalist is more than just a vocation, it carries its own set of responsibilities to society. We encounter this problem in many forms. It might be a false promise of a politician, going unchallenged in the flow of time. It could be carefully worded PR platitudes in the face of societal outrage remaining just that, a platitude.

There are many requirements a good journalist must possess, and a strong short-term memory is one of them, along with a determination to call out falsities down the line. Follow-ups are what separates good journalism to sensational yet unsubstantial reporting, especially when those reports turn out to be false or misleading in hindsight. Of course, we have emphasized the importance of following up on stories in the past on Reader’s Corner, but let us put it into perspective with the tangible result stemming from their absence.

This is also somewhat coincides with a subject we looked at on Sept. 9 with the article titled “Lack of tech literacy exposing fraud.” In that article we said: “If we are to list some of the underlying reasons behind the increasing disinterest possessed by the new generations toward mainstream media, the lack of understanding when it comes to the realities of developing technology and lingo can be counted among that number. It seems that a basic grasp of current technologies passable enough to accurately cover them is still a rare talent among the media.” It was a satirical approach to media failure recently in Turkey due to the lack of tech literacy. For those who were unfamiliar with the story here is a summary:

“Recently there was such a case where the lack of relevant knowledge possessed by journalists involved caused them to become the laughingstock of readers. The news report was about a motherboard produced entirely by local means in Turkey. It was a story that was supposed to be encouraging for those who wish to enter the field but feel that they lacked the means.  Another positive side effect would be that the innovator might receive more funding from the state and backing from private individuals following coverage. Considering the recent attempts at kick starting research and development (R&D) in Turkey, it could also be some of the first fruits of those endeavors. “However, shortly after the news report was published, readers started to point out logical inconsistencies in the story.

Producing a brand new motherboard was not that easy after all. It was a huge undertaking compared to the means listed in the news article. Those who possessed technological literacy pointed out the fallacies behind the supposed product and its promises. It was soon a trending topic on social media, as readers pointed out things, sometimes in a satirical way.” This summary is important because it is actually a story that shares many of the core elements of this week’s subject, only on a more global scale.

Kick-starting success: Since the founding of sites such as Kickstarter and GoFundMe and Patreon, the necessities of obtaining one of the most important needs of starting a business or push a new product have been subverted. With these new platforms, entrepreneurs are no longer compelled to convince traditional investors in order to try their hand in their projects. Instead, they are able to cut out the middle man and receive their necessary capital from the final link in the chain, customers themselves.

It was, and is, certainly a winning idea, evidenced by numerous successful projects taking off from these platforms whether they were about entrepreneurship, charity or literature. The way to get to that good ending however had several requirements in most cases. The most important being media coverage and whether it was mainstream or social. When you look at several success stories, at least as far as the funding process is concerned, it was clearly a match made in heaven.

On one hand, you had a product that was usually considered futuristic, referenced or fed from pop culture, or something you never knew you wanted. It was the perfect content for technology pages of newspapers, tech websites, blogs and so forth.

It wasn’t even that hard. After all, the project owners themselves already did most of the heavy lifting themselves with wonderful looking promotional materials such as crisp videos, lovely graphic design and an easily sold premise such as an underwater breathing apparatus, hoverboard, jetpack and so forth. I am sure you get the idea. Not all stories have a good ending however. Here is where the two problems mentioned above reared their heads. With the lack of technological literacy combined with the lack of follow-ups, the kick-started projects received an endless amount of positive press while also using that said press to further their own credibility in order to draw even more backers. If the project was on level, no problem.

But when failure, dishonesty and outright fraud became the words thrown around such projects, the premise of crowdfunding on this scale started do lose its luster. The sad thing is, most of that could have been prevented if not for those two problems.

Poisoning the well: The media’s lack of tech literacy allowed outlandish promises to go unchecked even when the alleged science behind the projects were quite flimsy, even to amateurish eyes. Not to mention that when those amateurish perspectives attempted to question the credibility of the projects, project managers now had the ability to point out the articles from trusted media organizations in order to swat them away as far as their backers were concerned.

Initial efforts of separating credible from outlandish stories failed due to tech illiteracy. Even that could have been salvaged in some manner if the media actually strived for consistent follow-ups in order to keep the projects honest as far as the promises and projects were concerned. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen either. At least until the fraudulent or failed projects garnered enough attention to actually be sensational enough. Just like with scam stories.

Journalists must realize that their credibility is the key issue to our industry. Even if they are not liable in a legal way, their credibility is damaged when a project they cover ends up sour. It is clear that the media dropped the ball on this issue, considering that social media sources attempt to meet this necessity by taking a hard look at crowdfunding projects by analyzing them from a technological and business perspectives. We must remember that if we facilitate people’s trust in a project, the least we could do is take a hard look at whether that trust is actually deserved. Doing otherwise is a disservice to society, our vocation and credible projects.

 

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Warning to Oman: Don’t ruin your future by forgetting history

Mohammad Ghaderi

After Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Muscat which was aimed at causing conflict between Islamic countries and white-washing Palestinians’ genocide in Gaza Strip, Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi attended Manama Dialogue security summit in Bahrain and made a speech.

Bin Alawi’s speech, made under obvious pressure from U.S. to change the atmosphere in favor of Zionist regime, contained some remarks that Sultanate of Oman is certainly aware of its consequences.

These are the points that Sultanate of Oman need to take into consideration:

  1. Zionist regime and Benjamin Netanyahu who falsely call themselves the representative of Jews and are currently tackling a variety of local and regional problems, seek rescue from their certain annihilation with fueling “Iran phobia” and covering up their crimes against humanity over the last 70 years. Trump’s support of the usurper Zionist regime is definitely not aimed at resolving the regional problems in west and west south Asian, but it is aimed to set the ground to orchestrate the century’s unfair deal in favor of the usurpers of the holy lands in Palestine.
  2. In current situation that there is almost a universal union against U.S. and its allies due to their abnormal behavior, it is ordinary that their plans, especially in regard to Palestine, have been interrupted; consequently kindling hostility and abusing the good reputation of a country like Oman is their last resort in changing the world’s ambience and postponing their imminent failure and annihilation.
  3. Considering the fact that Sayyid Qaboos bin Said, the Sultan of Oman hosted Netanyahu and bin Alawi’s speech at Manama Dialogue, Muscat’s officials must heed the warnings that this behavior will neither result in the same conclusion that Muhammad Anwar el-Sadat reached in making peace with Israel, nor will it have any benefit for Muslim community or for resolving Palestine’s issues. So, don’t let your name to be recorded in history as the supporter of a mock-up, usurper and anti-human regime, in case the future generations remember you in contempt.

 

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Demilitarized zone in Idlib: The road to the quartet summit

Kamran Gasanov

The possibility of military intervention by Bashar Assad’s forces in Idlib in early September increased the pressure on all foreign players involved in the Syrian conflict; however, it also enabled progress, which has brought the European Union, Turkey and Russia closer.

The deal between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin for the demilitarized zone revived the possibility of a summit with the participation of France, Germany, Turkey and Russia. In fact, less than two weeks after the Idlib agreement, Erdogan announced a tentative date for the summit during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “A quartet summit will be held in Istanbul with Russia, Germany, France and Turkey. I have spoken to [French President Emmanuel] Macron. He has a positive approach to it. Merkel said there are elections on Oct. 14 in Bavaria, let’s do it after that,” Erdogan said.

The demilitarized zone is an important step on the way to convene the quartet summit. All radical and terrorist groups should evacuate the area by Oct. 15. On Oct. 10, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar confirmed that all heavy weapons, including tanks and artillery, had already been withdrawn. For its part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov praised the “implementation of agreements” in the demilitarized zone and said that the process is going on “quite progressively.”

The progress in Idlib and the creation of a buffer zone between government forces and the opposition creates an atmosphere of security for local residents, even if Lavrov calls the demilitarized zone a “preliminary measure.”  Following the deal, nearly 60,000 Syrians, who had fled Idlib in the face of an offensive by the Assad regime, returned to their homes.

This security and peace in northwest Syria has gradually eliminated fears in Europe about a new refugee crisis on the Syrian-Turkish border and thereafter, on the Turkish-EU borders. The finalization of a 15-kilometer buffer zone in Idlib, free of armed groups and weapons, and joint Turkish-Russian patrols are certainly sufficient conditions for Merkel, Macron, Erdogan and Putin to hold a joint meeting.

Turkey and Russia’s aim here is clear – inviting the EU to the reconstruction of Syria, which, according to the United Nations, would require around $250 billion. Prior to the Sochi meeting with Erdogan, Putin could not persuade Merkel to dole out the money.  Now that the circumstances in Idlib have changed and the possibility of a humanitarian catastrophe has been averted, it seems like the EU would be more willing to help develop a solution. Unfortunately, that hasn’t quite been the case.

Speaking at a joint briefing with Erdogan in Berlin, Merkel said that the situation in Idlib still remains “fragile.” The German chancellor is absolutely right.  Even though a buffer zone has successfully been established, the future of the rest of the province remains in doubt. Terrorists from Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), who control about half of Idlib, refuse to negotiate with Ankara and do not want to give up their weapons – a key condition in the Turkey-Russia deal.

To prolong the security in Idlib and keep another refugee crisis at bay, Ankara must make the HTS withdraw from the demilitarized zone and eventually from the whole province, either by HTS’s own free will or by force. If Ankara fails to do so, the Assad regime, backed by Russian air forces and Iranian proxies, will renew its military operation. The second issue limiting the EU’s willingness to aid northern Syria is political. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and French officials have already made it clear that Berlin and Paris will not pay a cent if Assad remains in power and there is no political development toward free elections.

For Moscow and Tehran, this is no-go scenario, at least until Assad regains control over all of Syria.  The EU may be willing to keep Idlib under the influence of anti-Assad Turkey, but this is not a reasonable and long-term solution, given Russia’s willingness to ultimately handover Idlib back to Assad.

Therefore, the upcoming summit between France, Germany Turkey and Russia would be no more than a declaration of intention. In the same manner as the meetings in the Normandy format over the Ukrainian crisis. Nevertheless, such a quartet meeting should be considered an important step toward dialogue and building trust between the three NATO allies and Russia. In the long-term, all four countries are interested in Syria’s stability. It would enable the return of millions of refugees from Turkey and the EU while working as an incentive for Brussels to finance the reconstruction of the war-torn country. Dissolution of the Idlib deal is especially dangerous for the mainstream parties in the EU, at a time when the far-right is gaining power from Sweden to Italy.

The biggest loser of the EU-Russia-Turkey alliance will be the US If the four countries agree on Idlib, Russia and Turkey will have more capacity and common ground to raise the question of the American presence east of the Euphrates. Last week, Lavrov reminded that the US is playing a dangerous game by creating “Syrian Kurdistan.” The US will do anything to undermine the creation of another political platform in Syria – in addition to the Astana format – without its own participation. After the release of the detained American pastor Andrew Brunson, the US may promise Turkey more backing in Idlib, pushing it to create there the same zone of influence as in Afrin or in the al-Bab-Jarabulus-Azaz triangle. The same pressure will face the EU, for example in the form of new tariffs.

On Oct. 10, the Russian Defense Ministry warned that Daesh attacked the headquarters of the Nusra Front, killing White Helmets and seizing canisters of chlorine. A chemical provocation could be another “appropriate option” to stop all efforts taken by Russia and Turkey for securing Idlib and opening the way for the quartet summit.

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Erdogan told the ‘half-naked’ truth

Hilal Kaplan

To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men” Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

The Saudi government was forced to drop the pretense and accept the fact that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside their consulate in Istanbul thanks to Turkey’s “drip strategy” and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s unwavering moral stance.

The details uncovered thanks to the meticulous efforts of Turkish security and intelligence units were officially acknowledged by the highest authority of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday. But no one could have expected the president to publicly release a confidential audio recording that involves torture and murder. Turkey has shared the audio with the intelligence sources of relevant countries, including the US

All the evidence announced to public has already indicated that such a cold-blooded and brutal murder could not possibly be committed behind the back of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who is in control of all the security apparatuses of the country including the security directorate, military, intelligence and National Guard Forces. It is demonstrated by the fact that Gen. Maher Mutreb, who led the hit squad in the slaying of Khashoggi, dialed the office of crown prince four times on the day of the incident. So far, Turkey has fully performed its legal responsibilities by presenting all the forensic evidence available, declaring the evidence and developments at the presidential level and telling Saudi King Salman that Turkish courts are ready to try the offenders fairly and transparently.

According to a news report by The New York Times, the Mecca governor Khaled al-Faisal visited President Erdogan to offer “cooperation” in return for financial aid and abolishing the blockade on Qatar that is strongly opposed by Turkey, and Erdogan turned down the offer, stating that Turkey will proceed to investigate the case until all the facts are revealed. In so doing, Erdogan duly performed his moral duty.

Now, it is the turn of the other countries. If French President Emmanuel Macron gets worked up and rebukes journalists when asked about the arm sales to Saudi Arabia, and if the US and Britain do not go further than putting a visa embargo on the 15 convicts, which is merely a symbolic step, it is hard to yield results from the investigation even if Turkey fulfills its political responsibility.

It was a mere coincidence that US President Donald Trump said in a rally that the Saudi royal family cannot remain in power even for two weeks without the US on the very day Khashoggi entered the consulate. But it exemplifies that the US has already been enjoying all the leverage against the kingdom. If that is the case and if Khashoggi’s death will not be in vain, it is an urgent need for the “free world” not to leave President Erdogan alone in “leading by example.”

 

 

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Killer politicians: Curtain of deniability lifting

Jeffrey D Sachs

“Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” asked Henry II as he instigated the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, in 1170. Down through the ages, presidents and princes around the world have been murderers and accessories to murder, as the great Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin and Walter Lunden documented in statistical detail in their master work Power and Morality.

One of their main findings was that the behavior of ruling groups tends to be more criminal and amoral than that of the people over whom they rule. What rulers crave most is deniability. But with the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by his own government, the poisoning of former Russian spies living in the United Kingdom, and whispers that the head of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, may have been executed in China, the curtain has been slipping more than usual of late. In Riyadh, Moscow, and even Beijing, the political class is scrambling to cover up its lethal ways.

But no one should feel self-righteous here. American presidents have a long history of murder, something unlikely to trouble the current incumbent, Donald Trump, whose favorite predecessor, Andrew Jackson, was a cold-blooded murderer, slave owner, and ethnic cleanser of native Americans. For Harry Truman, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima spared him the likely high cost of invading Japan. But the second atomic bombing, of Nagasaki, was utterly indefensible and took place through sheer bureaucratic momentum: The bombing apparently occurred without Truman’s explicit order.

Since 1947, the deniability of presidential murder has been facilitated by the Central Intelligence Agency, which has served as a secret army (and sometime death squad) for American presidents. The CIA has been a party to murders and mayhem in all parts of the world, with almost no oversight or accountability for its countless assassinations. It is possible, though not definitively proved, that the CIA even assassinated UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld.

The CIA has only been held to public account on one occasion: the 1975 US Senate hearings led by Frank Church. Since then, the CIA has continued its violent and, yes, murderous ways, without any accountability for it or for the presidents who authorized its actions.

Many mass killings by US presidents have involved the conventional military. Lyndon Johnson escalated US military intervention in Vietnam on the pretext of a North Vietnamese attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened. Richard Nixon went further: By carpet-bombing Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, he sought to instill in the Soviet Union the fear that he was an irrational leader capable of anything. (Nixon’s willingness to implement his “madman theory” is perhaps the self-fulfilling proof of his madness.)

In the end, the Johnson-Nixon American war in Indochina cost millions of innocent lives. There was never a true accounting, and perhaps the opposite: plenty of precedents for later mass killings by US forces.

The mass killings in Iraq under George W Bush are of course better known, because the US-led war there was made for TV. A supposedly civilized country engaged in “shock and awe” to overthrow another country’s government on utterly false pretenses. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians died as a result. Barack Obama was widely attacked by the right for being too soft, yet he too notched up quite a death toll. His administration repeatedly approved drone attacks that killed not only terrorists, but also innocents and US citizens who opposed America’s bloody wars in Muslim countries.

He signed the presidential finding authorizing the CIA to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in overthrowing the Syrian government. That “covert” operation (hardly discussed in the polite pages of The New York Times) led to an ongoing civil war that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and millions displaced from their homes.

He used North Atlantic Treaty Organization air strikes to overthrow Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, resulting in a failed state and ongoing violence. Under Trump, the US has abetted Saudi Arabia’s mass murder (including of children) in Yemen by selling it bombs and advanced weapons with almost no awareness, oversight, or accountability by Congress or the American public. Murder committed out of view of the media is almost no longer murder at all.

When the curtain slips, as with the Khashoggi killing, we briefly see the world as it is. A Washington Post columnist is lured to a brutal death and dismembered by America’s close “ally.”

The American-Israeli-Saudi big lie that Iran is at the center of global terrorism, a claim refuted by the data, is briefly threatened by the embarrassing disclosure of Khashoggi’s grisly end. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who ostensibly ordered the operation, is put in charge of the “investigation” of the case; the Saudis duly cashier a few senior officials; and Trump, a master of non-stop lies, parrots official Saudi tall tales about a rogue operation.

A few government and business leaders have postponed visits to Saudi Arabia. The list of announced withdrawals from a glitzy investment conference is a who’s who of America’s military-industrial complex: top Wall Street bankers, CEOs of major media companies, and senior officials of military contractors, such as Airbus’s defense chief. The US prides itself on being a constitutional democracy, yet when it comes to foreign policy, the president is little different from a despot. Trump has just announced the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty without so much as a mention to Congress.

Political scientists should test the following hypothesis: Countries led by presidents (as in the US) and non-constitutional monarchs (as in Saudi Arabia), rather than by parliaments and prime ministers, are especially vulnerable to murderous politics. Parliaments provide no guarantees of restraint, but one-man rule in foreign policy, as in the US and Saudi Arabia, almost guarantees massive bloodletting.

Americans are rightly horrified by Khashoggi’s murder. But their own government’s murderous ways may be little different. The pervasiveness of state-sponsored killings is no excuse for treating murder as acceptable, ever. It is instead a rationale for subjecting power to strict constitutional constraints and especially to international law, including the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is our only true hope for survival and safety in a world where the casual resort to violence can easily be the end of all of us.