Tag Archives: private

Coastal cities are in serious jeopardy, new sea-level rise study shows.

Called “Build Back Better,” the plan focuses on providing immediate relief while also making the island’s energy infrastructure more resilient to future storms. That means fortifying the electric transmission system and bulking up defenses at power plants and substations.

The plan also envisions a Puerto Rico dotted with solar farms and wind turbines, linked by more than 150 microgrids. Of the 470,000 homes destroyed in Maria’s high winds, the report points out many could be built back with rooftop solar. New battery storage systems would allow hospitals, fire stations, water treatment plants, airports, and other critical facilities to keep the lights on without power from the grid.

Overall, $1.5 billion of the plan’s budget would go to these distributed renewable energy resources.

The plan was concocted by a bunch of industry and government groups working together, including the federal Department of Energy, Puerto Rico’s utility, several other state power authorities, and private utility companies like ConEd. If enacted, it would take the next 10 years to complete.

With a $94 billion Puerto Rico relief plan in Congress right now, it’s actually possible that $17 billion of that could go to building a renewable, resilient energy system for the future. It’d be a steal.

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Coastal cities are in serious jeopardy, new sea-level rise study shows.

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Trump’s lawyers tried (and probably failed) to throw out the kids’ climate lawsuit.

Called “Build Back Better,” the plan focuses on providing immediate relief while also making the island’s energy infrastructure more resilient to future storms. That means fortifying the electric transmission system and bulking up defenses at power plants and substations.

The plan also envisions a Puerto Rico dotted with solar farms and wind turbines, linked by more than 150 microgrids. Of the 470,000 homes destroyed in Maria’s high winds, the report points out many could be built back with rooftop solar. New battery storage systems would allow hospitals, fire stations, water treatment plants, airports, and other critical facilities to keep the lights on without power from the grid.

Overall, $1.5 billion of the plan’s budget would go to these distributed renewable energy resources.

The plan was concocted by a bunch of industry and government groups working together, including the federal Department of Energy, Puerto Rico’s utility, several other state power authorities, and private utility companies like ConEd. If enacted, it would take the next 10 years to complete.

With a $94 billion Puerto Rico relief plan in Congress right now, it’s actually possible that $17 billion of that could go to building a renewable, resilient energy system for the future. It’d be a steal.

Read this article:

Trump’s lawyers tried (and probably failed) to throw out the kids’ climate lawsuit.

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Nearly half of the country thinks Donald Trump is handling hurricane season well.

Those trips — 49 to 61 percent of all rides in metro areas — would otherwise have been made on foot, bike, or public transit, according to new analysis from UC Davis.

Sustainability-inclined urbanists — including us — often credit car- and ride-sharing services for reducing the overall number of cars in cities. After all, if people know they can get a ride when they need one, they will presumably be less likely to invest in a car of their own.

But the UC Davis study shows that the vast majority of ride-sharing users — 91 percent — have not made a change in their personal vehicle ownership as a result of Uber or Lyft. Meanwhile, these ride-share users took public transit 6 percent less.

That means that ride-hailing services aren’t necessarily taking people out of their cars — they’re taking them off of buses and subways.

There’s still lots of evidence that shows car ownership is an increasingly unappealing prospect for young people in America’s cities (after all, a big chunk of that 91 percent may not own a car in the first place).

Taxi apps may help kill the private car, but they won’t fix all our traffic and transit problems, either. That will take more work.

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Nearly half of the country thinks Donald Trump is handling hurricane season well.

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EPA employees eagerly leak documents from their mandatory anti-leaking class.

“If you just look at the energy sector, we need about a trillion a year,” Barbara Buchner says about the gap between between our climate goals and the amount of investment in developing solutions.

To spur those needed investments, Buchner’s group, The Lab, just launched a new crop of projects aimed at making it easier for investors to put money into green investments. Projects include partnerships between hydropower operators and land conservation and restoration efforts and “climate smart” cattle ranching initiatives in Brazil, as well as more esoteric exploits in private equity and cleantech development.

There are three main barriers that keep investors away from innovative projects, Buchner says: lack of knowledge of new projects, perception of higher risk, and an unwillingness to go in alone on unproven projects.

Breaking down these barriers is important because that climate investment gap can’t be closed by government spending alone.

“It’s the backbone, it’s the engine behind overall climate finance,” Buchner says of these early, targeted projects by governments and non-governmental organizations. “But the private sector [investors] really are the ones that make the difference.”

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EPA employees eagerly leak documents from their mandatory anti-leaking class.

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Actually, Apple’s shiny new office park isn’t that cool.

There’s been much high-profile gushing over the spaceship-in-Eden–themed campus that Apple spent six years and $5 billion building in Silicon Valley, but it turns out techno-utopias don’t make great neighbors.

“Apple’s new HQ is a retrograde, literally inward-looking building with contempt for the city where it lives and cities in general,” writes Adam Rogers at Wired, in an indictment of the company’s approach to transportation, housing, and economics in the Bay Area.

The Ring — well, they can’t call it The Circle — is a solar-powered, passively cooled marvel of engineering, sure. But when it opens, it will house 12,000 Apple employees, 90 percent of whom will be making lengthy commutes to Cupertino and back every day. (San Francisco is 45 miles away.)

To accommodate that, Apple Park features a whopping 9,000 parking spots (presumably the other 3,000 employees will use the private shuttle bus instead). Those 9,000 cars will be an added burden on the region’s traffic problems, as Wired reports, not to mention that whole global carbon pollution thing.

You can read Roger’s full piece here, but the takeaway is simple: With so much money, Apple could have made meaningful improvements to the community — building state-of-the-art mass transit, for example — but chose to make a sparkly, exclusionary statement instead.

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Actually, Apple’s shiny new office park isn’t that cool.

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What has Elon Musk been up to since ditching Trump’s advisory councils?

There’s been much high-profile gushing over the spaceship-in-Eden–themed campus that Apple spent six years and $5 billion building in Silicon Valley, but it turns out techno-utopias don’t make great neighbors.

“Apple’s new HQ is a retrograde, literally inward-looking building with contempt for the city where it lives and cities in general,” writes Adam Rogers at Wired, in an indictment of the company’s approach to transportation, housing, and economics in the Bay Area.

The Ring — well, they can’t call it The Circle — is a solar-powered, passively cooled marvel of engineering, sure. But when it opens, it will house 12,000 Apple employees, 90 percent of whom will be making lengthy commutes to Cupertino and back every day. (San Francisco is 45 miles away.)

To accommodate that, Apple Park features a whopping 9,000 parking spots (presumably the other 3,000 employees will use the private shuttle bus instead). Those 9,000 cars will be an added burden on the region’s traffic problems, as Wired reports, not to mention that whole global carbon pollution thing.

You can read Roger’s full piece here, but the takeaway is simple: With so much money, Apple could have made meaningful improvements to the community — building state-of-the-art mass transit, for example — but chose to make a sparkly, exclusionary statement instead.

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What has Elon Musk been up to since ditching Trump’s advisory councils?

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In 3 Months, 3 Immigrants Have Died at a Private Detention Center in California

Mother Jones

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A Honduran immigrant held at a troubled detention center in California’s high desert died Wednesday night while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Vincente Caceres-Maradiaga, 46, was receiving treatment for multiple medical conditions while waiting for an immigration court to decide whether to deport him, according an ICE statement. He collapsed as he was playing soccer at the detention facility and died while en route to a local hospital.

Caceres-Maradiaga’s death is the latest in a string of fatalities among detainees held at the Adelanto Detention Facility, which is operated by the GEO Group, the country’s largest private prison company. Three people held at the facility have died in the last three months, including Osmar Epifanio Gonzalez-Gadba, a 32-year-old Nicaraguan found hanging in his cell on March 22, and Sergio Alonso Lopez, a Mexican man who died of internal bleeding on April 13 after spending more than two months in custody.

Since it opened in 2011, Adelanto has faced accusations of insufficient medical care and poor conditions. In July 2015, 29 members of Congress sent a letter to ICE and federal inspectors requesting an investigation into health and safety concerns at the facility. They cited the 2012 death of Fernando Dominguez at the facility, saying it was the result of “egregious errors” by the center’s medical staff, who did not give him proper medical examinations or allow him to receive timely off-site treatment. In November 2015, 400 detainees began a hunger strike, demanding better medical and dental care along with other reforms.

Yet last year, the city of Adelanto, acting as a middleman between ICE and GEO, made a deal to extend the company’s contract until 2021. The federal government guarantees GEO that a minimum of 975 immigrants will be held at the facility and pays $111 per detainee per day, according to California state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who has fought to curtail private immigration detention. After that point, ICE only has to pay $50 per detainee per day—an incentive to fill more beds.

Of California’s four privately run immigration detention centers, three use local governments as intermediaries between ICE and private prison companies. On Tuesday, the California senate voted 26-13 to ban such contracts, supporting a bill that could potentially close Adelanto when its contract runs out in 2021. The Dignity Not Detention Act, authored by Lara, would prevent local governments from signing or extending contracts with private prison companies to detain immigrants starting in 2019. The bill would also require all in-state facilities that hold ICE detainees, including both private detention centers and public jails, to meet national standards for detention conditions—empowering state prosecutors to hold detention center operators accountable for poor conditions inside their facilities.

An identical bill passed last year but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. “I have been troubled by recent reports detailing unsatisfactory conditions and limited access to counsel in private immigration detention facilities,” Brown wrote in his veto message last September. But he deferred to the Department of Homeland Security, which was then reviewing its use of for-profit immigration detention. In that review, the Homeland Security Advisory Council rejected the ongoing use of private prison companies to detain immigrants, citing the “inferiority of the private prison model.” Yet since President Donald Trump took office, the federal government has moved to expand private immigration detention, signing a $110 million deal with GEO in April to build the first new immigration detention center under Trump.

Nine people have died in ICE custody in fiscal year 2017, which began October 1. Meanwhile, private prison stocks have nearly doubled in value since Election Day.

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In 3 Months, 3 Immigrants Have Died at a Private Detention Center in California

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Trump Wants to Let Your Boss Take Away Your Birth Control

Mother Jones

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The Trump administration is considering a broad exemption to Obamacare’s mandate on contraceptive coverage, according to a leaked draft of the proposed rule published by Vox on Wednesday.

Since 2011, the Obamacare provision has required that most employers provide insurance that covers birth control, without any cost to the patient. The rule has been the target of a number of lawsuits by religious employers who felt that the requirement violated their religious beliefs. Showing sensitivity to such concerns, in 2014 the Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that some religious employers could opt out of the coverage. But the court required them to file paperwork indicating their objection, in turn triggering separate contraceptive coverage for employees provided directly by the insurance company. That ruling, though, didn’t settle the issue for religious groups. In a follow-up 2016 Supreme Court case, Zubik v. Burwell, a number of religious organizations said that even this accommodation required them to violate their beliefs, as the paperwork made them complicit in providing birth control coverage. The Supreme Court sent the case down to the lower courts, where it has still not been resolved.

Now, the Trump administration seems ready to extend the birth control exemption beyond just religious employers. According to the leaked draft, dated May 23, the new rule would allow virtually any organization to opt out of the mandate if they feel contraception coverage violates “their religious beliefs and moral convictions.”

“This rule would mean women across the country could be denied insurance coverage for birth control on a whim from their employer or university,” said Dana Singiser, vice president for public policy and government relations of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. “It would expand the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling to allow any employer—including huge, publicly traded companies—to deny birth control coverage to their employees. Think about it: Under this rule, bosses will be able to impose their personal beliefs on their female employees’ private medical decisions.”

What’s more, this draft doesn’t require employers opting out of the mandate to notify the government they are doing so; they’re only required to notify employees of a change in their insurance plans. Insurance companies could also themselves refuse to cover contraception if it violates their religious or moral beliefs.

This appears to provide an even broader exemption than what team Trump has previously signaled it would enact. Throughout the campaign, Trump assured religious leaders their organizations would not have to comply with the contraception mandate: “I will make absolutely certain religious orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor are not bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs,” he wrote in a letter to Catholic leaders last year, referring to the order of nuns that were party to the Zubik Supreme Court case. And on May 4, Trump, flanked by the Little Sisters of the Poor, signed an executive order about religious liberty, which encourages several agencies to address religious employers’ objections to Obamacare’s preventive care requirements, including contraception.

It is unclear what changes may have been made to this draft since May 23, but what is clear is that the rule is in an advanced stage of the process; the Office of Management and Budget announced that it is currently reviewing it, the penultimate step before the rule is enacted via posting in the Federal Register.

You can read the full draft, obtained by Vox, below:

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Preventive Services Final Rule (PDF)

Preventive Services Final Rule (Text)

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Trump Wants to Let Your Boss Take Away Your Birth Control

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The Secret Life of the Forest – Richard M. Ketchum

READ GREEN WITH E-BOOKS

The Secret Life of the Forest
Richard M. Ketchum

Genre: Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: March 1, 2017

Publisher: New Word City, Inc.

Seller: New Word City


In any given year, millions of people visit one or more of the 154 national forests in the United States, not to mention the hundreds of thousands who spend some time in the private forests of the nation. All of them – hikers, hunters, fishermen, campers, and canoeists – are drawn to the woods for some special reason. Yet few of them see the forest as a whole, as the web of life it truly is. Here, from New York Times bestselling author Richard M. Ketchum, is the extraordinary story of forests and the trees that comprise them.

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The Secret Life of the Forest – Richard M. Ketchum

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Why Would a President Schmooze With Vicious Autocrats and Repressive Monarchs?

Mother Jones

A version of this story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

Much outrage has been expressed in recent weeks over President Donald Trump’s White House invitation to Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, whose “war on drugs” has led to thousands of extrajudicial killings. Criticism of Trump was especially intense given his warm public support for other authoritarian rulers, including Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sisi (who visited the Oval Office amid presidential praise weeks earlier), Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan (who got a congratulatory phone call from Trump on the recent referendum victory that cemented his powers), and Thailand’s Prayuth Chan-ocha (who also received a White House invitation).

But here’s the strange thing: The critics generally ignored the far more substantial and long-standing support US presidents, Democrat and Republican, have offered to dozens of repressive regimes over the decades. These regimes have one striking thing in common: They are all on an autocratic honor role of at least 45 nations and territories hosting scores of US military bases—from tiny outposts to installations the size of a small city. All told, these bases are home to tens of thousands of US troops.

To ensure basing access, American officials regularly collaborate with regimes and militaries that have been implicated in torture, murder, suppression of democratic rights, systematic oppression of women and minorities, and countless other human rights abuses. Never mind Trump. These collaborations have been the status quo for nearly three-quarters of a century. In fact, since World War II, US administrations have often shown a preference for maintaining bases in undemocratic and/or despotic states—Spain under Generalissimo Francisco Franco, South Korea under Park Chung-hee, Bahrain under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and Djibouti under four-term President Ismail Omar Guelleh, to name just a few.

Many of our 45 undemocratic base hosts qualify as fully “authoritarian regimes,” according to a democracy index compiled by the Economist. Which means American installations and the troops stationed there are effectively helping block the spread of democracy in countries like Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kuwait, Niger, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

This support for dictatorship and repression should trouble any American who believes in the principles of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence. After all, one of the long-articulated justifications for maintaining US military bases abroad has been that our military presence protects and spreads democracy. Far from it, such bases tend to help legitimize and prop up repressive regimes, while often interfering with genuine efforts toward political and democratic reform. The silencing of the critics of human rights abuses in base nations such as Bahrain, which has violently cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators since 2011, has left the United States complicit.

During the Cold War, such bases were often justified as the unfortunate but necessary consequence of confronting the “communist menace.” Yet in the quarter-century since the Cold War ended, few of those bases have closed. So today, while White House visits from autocrats generates indignation, the presence of American military installations in the same countries receives little notice.

The 45 nations and territories with little or no democratic rule represent more than half the roughly 80 countries now hosting US bases—countries that often lack the power to ask their “guests” to leave. They are part of a historically unprecedented global network of military installations the United States has built or occupied since World War II.

While there are no foreign bases in the United States, we have around 800 bases in foreign countries—almost certainly a record for any nation or empire in history. More than 70 years after World War II and 64 years after the Korean War, there remain, according to the Pentagon, 181 US “base sites” in Germany, 122 in Japan, and 83 in South Korea. Hundreds more dot the planet from Aruba to Australia, Belgium to Bulgaria, Colombia to Qatar. Hundreds of thousands of troops, civilians, and family members occupy these installations. By my conservative estimate, manning and maintaining these installations costs US taxpayers at least $150 billion annually—which is more than the budget of any government agency other than the Pentagon.

For decades, our leaders in Washington have insisted these foreign bases spread American values and democracy—and that may have been true to some extent in occupied Germany, Japan, and Italy after World War II. But as base expert Catherine Lutz suggests, the subsequent historical record shows that “gaining and maintaining access” for our outposts “has often involved close collaboration with despotic governments.”

Consider the Philippines: The United States has maintained military facilities in the archipelago almost continuously since seizing it from Spain in 1898. America only granted the colony independence in 1946, conditioned on the local government’s agreement that the United States would retain access to more than a dozen military installations there.

After independence, a succession of US administrations supported two decades of Ferdinand Marcos’ autocratic rule in the Philippines, ensuring the continued use of Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base, two of our largest overseas bases. The Filipinos finally ousted Marcos in 1986 and ordered the US military to leave in 1991, but five years later, the Pentagon quietly returned. With the help of a “visiting forces agreement” and a growing stream of military exercises and training programs, it began to set up surreptitious, small-scale bases once more. A desire to solidify this renewed base presence, while also checking Chinese influence in the region, may have driven Trump’s White House invitation to Duterte. It came despite the Filipino president’s record of joking about rape, swearing he would be “happy to slaughter” millions of drug addicts just as “Hitler massacred six million Jews,” and bragging, “I don’t care about human rights.”

In Turkey, President Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic rule is only the latest episode in a pattern of military coups and undemocratic regimes interrupting periods of democracy in Turkey. Since 1943, however, US bases have been a constant presence in the country, where they have repeatedly sparked protest—throughout the 1960s and 1970s, prior to the Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, and more recently, when US forces began using them to launch attacks in Syria.

Although Egypt has a relatively small US base presence, its military has enjoyed deep and lucrative Pentagon ties since the signing of the Camp David Accords with Israel in 1979. After a 2013 military coup ousted a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government, the Obama administration waited months to withhold some forms of military and economic aid, despite more than 1,300 killings by security forces and the arrest of more than 3,500 members of the Brotherhood. According to Human Rights Watch, “Little was said about ongoing abuses,” which have continued to this day.

The United States also has maintained deep connections with the Thai military, which has carried out 12 coups since 1932. Both countries have been able to deny they have a basing relationship of any sort, thanks to a rental agreement between a private contractor and US forces at Thailand’s Utapao Naval Air Base. “Because of contractor Delta Golf Global,” writes journalist Robert Kaplan, “the US military was here, but it was not here. After all, the Thais did no business with the US Air Force. They dealt only with a private contractor.”

In monarchical Bahrain, which has had a US military presence since 1949 and now hosts the Navy’s 5th Fleet, the Obama administration offered only the most tepid criticism of the Bahraini government despite an ongoing, often violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. According to Human Rights Watch and others (including an independent commission of inquiry appointed by the Bahraini king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa), the government has been responsible for widespread abuses, including the arbitrary arrest of protesters, ill treatment during detention, torture-related deaths, and growing restrictions on freedoms of speech, association, and assembly. The Trump administration has already signaled its desire to protect the military ties of the two countries by approving a sale of F-16 fighters to Bahrain without demanding any improvements in its human rights record.

This is typical of what the late base expert Chalmers Johnson once called the American “baseworld.” Research by political scientist Kent Calder confirms what’s come to be known as the “dictatorship hypothesis”: that “the United States tends to support dictators in nations where it enjoys basing facilities.” Another large study concluded that autocratic states have been “consistently attractive” as base sites. “Due to the unpredictability of elections,” it added bluntly, democratic states prove “less attractive in terms of sustainability and duration.”

Even within what are technically US borders, democratic rule has regularly proved “less attractive” than preserving colonialism into the 21st century. The presence of scores of bases in Puerto Rico and the Pacific island of Guam has been a major motivation for keeping these and other territories—American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands—in varying degrees of colonial subordination. Conveniently for military leaders, they have neither full independence nor the full democratic rights—voting, representation in Congress—that come with US statehood. Installations in at least five of Europe’s remaining colonies have proved equally attractive, as has the base US troops have forcibly occupied in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since shortly after the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Authoritarian rulers are well aware of the desire of US officials to maintain the status quo when it comes to bases. As a result, they often capitalize on a base presence to extract benefits or help ensure their own political survival.

The Philippines’ Marcos, former South Korean dictator Syngman Rhee, and more recently Djibouti’s Ismail Omar Guelleh have been typical in the way they used bases to extract economic assistance from Washington, which they then lavished on political allies to shore up their power. Other autocrats have relied on US bases to bolster their international prestige and legitimacy, or to justify violence against political opponents.

After the 1980 Kwangju massacre—in which the South Korean government killed hundreds, if not thousands, of pro-democracy demonstrators, strongman General Chun Doo-hwan explicitly cited the presence of US bases and troops to suggest that he enjoyed Washington’s support. Whether that was true remains a matter of historical debate. What’s clear, though, is that American leaders have regularly muted their criticism of repressive regimes lest they imperil US basing rights. And the US presence tends to strengthen military, rather than civilian, institutions because of military-to-military ties, arms sales, and training missions that generally accompany the basing agreements.

Opponents of repressive regimes often use the bases to rally nationalist sentiment, anger, and protest against their ruling elites and the United States. In some such cases, fears in Washington that a transition to democracy might lead to base eviction leads to a doubling down on support for the undemocratic ruler. The result can be an escalating cycle of opposition and US-backed repression.

While some analysts defend the presence of US bases in undemocratic countries as necessary to deter bad actors and support American interests (primarily corporate ones), backing dictators and autocrats frequently leads to harm—not just for the citizens of the host nations, but for US citizens as well. The base buildup in the Middle East is the most prominent example. In the wake of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution the same year, the Pentagon has built up scores of bases across the Middle East at a cost of tens of billions of dollars. These bases and the troops stationed in them have been a “major catalyst for anti-Americanism and radicalization,” according to former West Point professor Bradley Bowman, who cites research noting a correlation between the bases and Al Qaeda recruitment.

Outposts in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan have helped generate and fuel the radical militancy that has spread throughout the Greater Middle East and led to terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States. The presence of US bases and troops in Muslim holy lands was a major recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, and part of Osama bin Laden’s professed motivation for the 9/11 attacks.

With the Trump administration seeking to entrench the renewed base presence in the Philippines, and the president commending Duterte and similarly authoritarian leaders in Bahrain and Egypt, Turkey and Thailand, human rights violations worldwide are likely to escalate, fueling unknown brutality and baseworld blowback for years to come.

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Why Would a President Schmooze With Vicious Autocrats and Repressive Monarchs?

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