February 21, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Hezbollah Amid Lebanese Collapse (Bilal Saab, February 21, 2021,  lawFare)

It is a truism that militant substate actors thrive under conditions of state weakness. But what's less clear is whether such actors, at least the larger and more ambitious types, are able to survive and achieve their goals under conditions of prolonged public governance failure and economic implosion. This is a question that currently applies to Hezbollah, the armed Lebanese political party with allegiances to Iran. 

Since its inception in the early 1980s, Hezbollah has been a thorn in the side of the United States, constantly undermining its interests in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region in coordination with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). It is also suspected of perpetrating terrorist attacks against U.S. forces and personnel in the region, including the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks at the Lebanese international airport and two attacks targeting the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983 and 1984.

Washington has tried a range of policy options to weaken the group over the years. It has pressured Hezbollah diplomatically by labeling it in 1997 as a terrorist organization. It has sought to obstruct Hezbollah's fundraising activities worldwide and particularly in the United States and Latin America. It has tried to challenge Hezbollah's rationale for maintaining an autonomous military--which the group justifies as a means of deterring Israel--by strengthening the Lebanese army. And it has applied economic sanctions, enabled Israeli military action through the provision of arms and diplomatic support, and pursued covert operations of its own against the group.

But nothing seems to have succeeded in limiting Hezbollah's tremendous influence over Lebanese politics, reducing its military capabilities, or containing its regional clout in places like Syria, Iraq and Yemen. For many years, Hezbollah has acted as a kingmaker with so-called veto power over how Lebanese cabinets are formed and who becomes Lebanese president, and its sway at home and abroad has continued to grow.

Lebanon is now reeling financially and teetering on the edge of collapse because of the endemic corruption of its ruling elites and their persistent failure to implement political and economic reforms.

Recognize the Shi'a South as an independent nation, thereby imposing all responsibility for governing on Hezbollah. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


Michael Flynn's Wild Ride Into The Heart Of QAnon: In the weeks before the Capitol siege, Trump's former national security adviser went on a far-right media blitz to promote wild conspiracy theories. (Nick Robins-Early, 2/21/21, HuffPo)

Michael Flynn stood in front of a cheering crowd of QAnon believers, far-right extremists and other Trump supporters, and told them he was absolutely certain Donald Trump would remain the president. It was Dec. 12 and Trump had already lost the election, but at a "Stop the Steal" rally in Washington, D.C., Flynn proclaimed "a spiritual battle for the heart and soul of this country" that would end with Trump's victory.

As three of his siblings applauded behind him, Flynn vowed that the election was not over and that "courts aren't gonna decide who the next president of the United States is gonna be." Flynn said Trump trusted his supporters to "not allow what's happening to happen in our country" and called on them to "fight back" against an alleged plot involving groundless conspiracy theories of election fraud and rigged voting machines.

"Why not look inside these machines? Why? Why not? What are they afraid of? What are they hiding from? They are hiding from something!" Flynn told the crowd.

The December event foreshadowed Trump's Jan. 6 rally, which led to a far-right mob storming the U.S. Capitol, and many of the same groups were involved, including dark-money nonprofit Women for America First. Violence also followed the first event, with Proud Boys gang members involved in brawls and stabbings that resulted in 33 arrests. The December rally was part of a string of speeches and media appearances, leading up to the January insurrection, in which Flynn lent his voice to the authoritarian movement to keep Trump in office. [...]

In early 2017, Flynn was one of the most powerful men in the world. After decades in military intelligence, the former three-star lieutenant general had landed the role of Trump's national security adviser. Four years later, he would appear on conspiracy theorist podcasts with hosts who claim vaccines contain Communist microchips and who interview men that say they've had sex with space aliens. In that world, Flynn is something between a saint and a folk hero ― a key figure in the QAnon movement, which believes a secret cabal of international pedophiles controls the country and an anonymous insider known as "Q" is sending out secret instructions to bring the cabal down. 

QAnon believers and far-right militias came to believe that Flynn would help them take control. Days after the Dec. 12 rally, the Three Percenters militia threatened action to overturn the election results. "We are ready to enter into battle with General Flynn leading the charge," one of the largest Three Percenters groups said in a statement on Dec. 16. Multiple Three Percenters would later be charged in connection with the Capitol riot, including a 48-year-old man who allegedly threatened to kill his family if they contacted law enforcement.

Even as Flynn became a symbolic military leader for these extremists, he retained close ties to the president. After his brief stint as national security adviser ended in disgrace, Trump reportedly floated naming him chief of staff or FBI director and hosted him in the Oval Office. 

And when Trump pardoned Flynn late last year, he set the former general loose to indulge in QAnon fanfare and promote the same falsehoods that insurrectionists took to the Capitol building.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The boom in 'green' energy (The Week, February 21, 2021)

Can renewables replace fossil fuels?

Renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydroelectricity are already overtaking fossil fuels as the dominant means of power generation in some parts of the developed world. In 2019, 72 percent of power plant additions utilized renewables, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). For the first time, the European Union generated more electricity (38 percent) from renewables in 2020 than from fossil fuels (37 percent). The U.S. still relies heavily upon oil (37 percent), natural gas (32 percent), and coal (11 percent), but the country is on pace this year to generate more energy from renewables than from coal. Overall, renewables now account for roughly 11 percent of U.S. energy production -- with about a quarter of that derived from wind power, two-fifths from biofuels and hydroelectricity, and a 10th from solar. Rapid growth in renewables is underway: In 2020, electricity producers installed 37 gigawatts of new solar and wind capacity, shattering the record of 17 GWs from 2016. "The grid is changing so much faster than anyone expected," said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University.

What's driving the transformation?

Cost-effectiveness. Solar panel producers have steadily achieved greater efficiencies in manufacturing and in generating more power from each individual solar cell. This has led to vast reductions in price, so that solar and wind power now have surpassed coal -- and even natural gas -- as the cheapest forms of power generation. While the price of coal power largely remained the same from 2009 to 2019, the price of solar power fell by 89 percent and onshore wind power by 70 percent, according to Lazard. The U.K., Norway, and other countries now generate a large share of their electricity from offshore wind farms, and that potential also exists for the U.S., with seven states now studying how to set up arrays. "Right now, the economics of burning coal just don't make sense," said Joe Daniel, who monitors the power sector for the Union of Concerned Scientists. The boom in renewables has another economic benefit: It has created hundreds of thousands of jobs: About 446,000 Americans worked in the solar and wind industries as of 2019 -- more than double the 211,000 in coal mining and other methods of fossil-fuel extraction.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Malcolm X is still misunderstood - and misusedFifty-five years after his assassination at the Audubon Ballroom in New York, we still get much wrong about Malcolm X. (Omar Suleiman, 2/21/21, Al Jazeera)

Malcolm was never violent, not as a member of the Nation of Islam, nor as a Sunni Muslim. But Malcolm did find it hypocritical to demand that black people in the United States commit to non-violence when they were perpetually on the receiving end of state violence. He believed that black people in the US had a right to defend themselves, and charged that the US was inconsistent in referencing its founding fathers' defence of liberty for everyone but them.

Malcolm knew that his insistence on this principle would cause him to be demonised even further and ultimately benefit the movement of Dr King, which is exactly what he had intended. Just weeks before his assassination, he went to Selma to support Dr King and willingly embraced his role as the scary alternative. In every interview, in his meeting with Dr Coretta Scott King, and elsewhere, he vocalised that the US would do well to give the good reverend what he was asking for, or else.

But he never actually said what the "or else" was, placing a greater urgency on America to cede to King's demands. Malcolm had no problem playing the villain, so long as it led to his people no longer being treated like animals. And while King may have been steadfast in his commitment to non-violence, the thrust of Malcolm fully served its purpose.

As Colin Morris, the author of Unyoung, Uncolored, Unpoor wrote, "I am not denying passive resistance its due place in the freedom struggle, or belittling the contribution to it of men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Both have a secure place in history. I merely want to show that however much the disciples of passive resistance detest violence, they are politically impotent without it. American Negroes needed both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X ..."

But it was not just that Malcolm and Martin had complementary strategies to achieve black freedom, they also spoke to different realities. Malcolm spoke more to the Northern reality of black Americans who were only superficially integrated, whereas Martin spoke to the Southern reality where even that was not possible.

Malcolm also spoke to the internalised racism of black people that was essential to overcome for true liberation. As the late James Cone states, "King was a political revolutionary. Malcolm was a cultural revolutionary. Malcolm changed how black people thought about themselves. Before Malcolm came along, we were all Negroes. After Malcolm, he helped us become black."

In the long run, we might well have been better served by more violence, so we couldn't be so self-congratulatory about ceding basic rights. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden's sturdy resistance to China (George Will, 2/21/21, Albany Herald)

These should begin with an immediate announcement of a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, whose current viciousness is comparable to that of Germany at the time of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. And there should be at least public shaming of U.S. corporations which, while ostentatiously woke at home, seem not to think that Uighur lives matter. Let us identify corporations that import goods made with forced Uighur labor or export to China goods (e.g., surveillance technologies) that could facilitate Beijing's genocide.

Twenty percent of the world's cotton comes from Xinjiang, the region of the genocide: How many U.S. clothing brands are using products of forced labor? The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which last year had 87 co-sponsors in the House and 33 in the Senate, would create a statutory presumption that products from Xinjiang are produced by forced labor. Which U.S. corporations will lobby against this bill?

While China screws down the lid of tyranny on Hong Kong -- making schools instruments of political indoctrination; removing library books that "endanger national security" -- Beijing continues to add to the (at least) 380 Uighur "re-education" camps. If U.S. transactions -- diplomatic and commercial -- with China are unaffected by the finding of genocide, this will, in the words of Eugene Kontorovich of George Mason University's Scalia Law School, "make a joke out of genocide."

Primo Levi, an Auschwitz survivor, said: "It happened, therefore it can happen again." U.S. policy now insists that genocide is happening in a nation tightly woven into the fabric of world commerce. China is crucial to globalization's supply chains, but these chains are also crucial to China. They can be instruments of political leverage for the United States and other signatories to the aforementioned convention who are committed to take measures to "prevent and to punish" genocide.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Merrick Garland's long wait is over but his problems are just starting (David Smith, 21 Feb 2021, The Guardian)

Garland will inherit a justice department battered by Trump, who undermined its independence, weakened its civil rights enforcement and repeatedly accused employees of working for the "deep state". The political moderate will also walk into the crossfire of hyper-partisan Washington.

Fallone added: "He's going to inherit a demoralised justice department in terms of staff. He's going to have to try to get the career people back on track. It's also a staff that's been hit very hard by departures so he's going to have to ramp up the hiring and bring on good people.

"He's the best attorney general Republicans could hope for in terms of potential nominees because of his reputation for integrity and fairness but he'll never satisfy them. And he's never going to satisfy the progressive wing of the Democratic party in particular on issues relating to police misconduct and voting rights. They're going to want a much more muscular attorney general than I think is in Merrick Garland's DNA."

Merrick Garland's 'flawless' work in Oklahoma City crucial in white supremacy fight (Tom McCarthy, 1 Feb 2021, The Guardian)

Now, after 23 years as one of the country's top appeals court judges, Garland, 68, is once again returning to a lead prosecutor role, tapped by Joe Biden to run the justice department as attorney general - with the threat from anti-government extremists again on the agenda.

"We had tremendous confidence in him, and I think his handling of that very challenging situation was flawless," said Jamie Gorelick, Garland's boss at the time of the Oklahoma City attack and one of the country's longest-serving deputy attorneys general. "If you look at his background, he was very well suited for working both with the FBI and the other investigative agencies, and well-regarded by all of them, and he had a wonderful way of bringing people together on the ground."

Stewing in pernicious lies about election fraud spread by Donald Trump, the United States is once again facing a rising threat of violence from anti-Washington extremists and white supremacists, according to a rare bulletin warning issued last week by the Department of Homeland Security - and the Oklahoma City attack is riding high in some minds.

"The Oklahoma City bombing and its legacy are critical to understanding the domestic extremist movements of today," the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a report last year.

In spite of his being the target of an infamous Republican stunt four years ago that blocked his nomination to the US supreme court, Garland is expected to be confirmed by the US Senate as attorney general in the coming weeks.

People who know Garland from his work in Oklahoma believe that the country could have no better ally in the fight against homegrown extremism, a broad job whose challenges include not only prosecuting the recent insurrectionists but also preventing the next attack, disrupting extremist groups on social media, rooting out white supremacists from police forces and the military, and restoring public trust in the rule of law.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


AOC raises over $3M for Texas relief, heads to Houston after blasting Cruz for Mexico trip (Elizabeth Janowski, 2/19/21, NBC News)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., raised $3.2 million for relief efforts in Texas as of Friday night before visiting Houston to help in the recovery effort.

"I think this shows that New York stands with you, but the whole country stands with you," Ocasio-Cortez said in a press conference outside a food bank, where she spent the morning volunteering.

Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, who represents the Houston area and joined Ocasio-Cortez Saturday, praised the congresswoman for her efforts. "That's, that's pretty big even for Texas sizes," Garcia said of the $3.2 million raised.

The funds raised by the progressive lawmaker will go toward 12 food banks and relief organizations, including the Bridge Homeless Recovery Center, Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, Family Eldercare, Feeding Texas and the Houston Food Bank, according to the donations page.

"Charity isn't always a replacement for good governance, but we won't turn away from helping people in need when things hit the fan," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Wuhan Lab Kept NIH Funding Despite Trump Crackdown (Yuichiro Kakutani, FEBRUARY 21, 2021, Free Beacon)

Federal records show the U.S. government is partnering with the Wuhan Institute of Virology even though the Trump administration pledged to ban funding for the Chinese laboratory located at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

President Donald Trump promised that he would "end" public funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology during an April 17 press conference. Despite his promise, the National Institutes of Health has left untouched a 2019 neuroscience research grant that disbursed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Chinese laboratory, according to a federal expenditure database. The NIH earmarked most of the $4.3 million grant to U.C. Irvine, which the California public university used to funnel $216,108 in taxpayer money to a Wuhan Institute of Virology researcher as a "sub-grant."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Oversimplifying the Yemen War Teaches the Wrong Lessons (Ari Heistein, 2/21/21, National Interest)

It is worth considering two possible scenarios. First, it is conceivable that the launch of the Saudi campaign and Riyadh's subsequent desire to extricate itself from the quagmire would lead the Houthis to agree to integrate into a unified national Yemeni government in which they would presumably be the prime powerbrokers of a dysfunctional political system, a la Hezbollah in Lebanon. But such a settlement appears unlikely as it would encounter the same issue that the article claims currently drives Houthi intransigence--"Houthi ascendance." In 2014-2015, the group's rise from a small, disorganized group in a Yemeni backwater to conquering Yemen's two largest cities would not incline them toward compromise; all the more so when they are being targeted by an ineffective and inexperienced Saudi adversary that has been separated from its American security guarantor. The second and more likely scenario is that the Saudi-led coalition carries out an even more ham-fisted military campaign that is unable to dislodge the Houthis from significant territories in Yemen and so the Iran-backed group remains in control of the vast majority of the country.

Third option: recognize the historic Houthi territory in Northern Yemen as an independent nation.  Dun the Sa'uds for the cost of rebuilding the Southern Sunni nation.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Much of a Threat is Espionage from Chinese Immigrants?Native-born Americans who are ethnically Chinese are less likely to be spies than their proportion of the population would suggest. (Alex Nowrasteh, 2/21/21, National Interest)

A new paper published by the Cato Institute fills this gap. My research identifies 1,485 people convicted of espionage and espionage-related offenses on American soil between 1990 and 2019. This doesn't count people who hacked computers from abroad, just those who were caught engaged in any espionage or espionage related activity in the United States.

During that thirty-year period, about 1 in 6.5 million people per year in the United States committed espionage or an espionage related crime. A total of 583 of these spies were native-born Americans while the rest were foreign-born or had unknown origins. Only 184 of them were from China.

The annual chance that somebody born in China would commit espionage was about 1 in 404,000 per year during that time. But Chinese-born spies aren't the only threat. Of the 1,485 identified, 276 spied for China. Of those, 171 or 62 percent, were born in China. Twenty-four percent were American born, 7 percent were born in Taiwan, and the rest come from many different countries. And in only a third of the cases against Chinese-born spies was the U.S. government the target of the espionage.

This means that, ultimately, native-born Americans who are ethnically Chinese are less likely to be spies than their proportion of the population would suggest.

While rare, the most memorable recent instance of a Chinese national attempting to target American officials, which became known after my paper was finished, was of Christine Fang. She tried to "influence" many minor American politicians like Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Mike Honda (D-CA) in unspecified ways and to no apparent effect, other than possibly embarrassing her targets. Despite her apparent efforts, however, she wasn't charged with espionage.

When it comes to those actually prosecuted, in two-thirds of instances Chinese-born spies stole economic secrets or intellectual property that were rarely related to national security. Xiaorong You, a Chinese immigrant, was indicted for stealing a formula for a new coating on the inside of Coca-Cola cans. Chinese-born Xudong "William" Yao was convicted of stealing secrets related to operating train locomotives. James Patrick Lewis, a native-born American professor at West Virginia University, was convicted of fraud because he lied about his involvement with a Chinese program that may be tied to economic espionage. Li Chen and Yu Zhou, the husband and wife team mentioned above, conspired to steal trade secrets related to breakthroughs in pediatric cancer research--not national security secrets.

Those cases of economic espionage and theft of trade secrets simply do not rise to the level of an "economic blitzkrieg," in the words of former attorney general Bill Barr.

Open source it all. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Poll shows large swaths of Israeli youth hate Arabs, back revoking citizenship (Times of Israel, 19 February 2021))

In a poll published this week, nearly half of ultra-Orthodox and national religious Israeli youth expressed hatred toward Arabs and noted support for stripping them of their citizenship, a sentiment shared by 23 percent of secular youth.

The Thursday poll from the Hebrew University's aChord Center was conducted among 1,100 respondents between the ages of 16 and 18.

Of those polled, 66% of Haredim, 42% of religious nationalists and 24% of secular Israelis expressed feelings of fear and hatred toward Arabs, which make up some 20% of the population.

Which is why they say Donald was pro-Israel--that's what he wanted too.