Focal Points Blog

Irish Shillelagh Austerity

Ireland’s election drove a big spike into the austerity policies of the “troika”—the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. (Photo: eBay)

Ireland’s election drove a big spike into the austerity policies of the “troika”—the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. (Photo: eBay)

Note: A shillelagh is a blackthorn walking stick that the Irish use for whacking things they don’t like.

If there is one thing clear after Ireland’s recent election, it is that people no longer buy the myth that austerity is the path to economic salvation. It is the same message that Greeks, Portuguese and Spaniards delivered to their elites over the past year: the prophets of tough love, regressive taxes, and massive social services cutbacks should update their resumes and consider a different profession than politics.

Ireland is a small country but the Feb. 26 election drove a big spike into the policies of the “troika”—the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund—that have blitzed economies across the continent and made chronic unemployment and growing economic inequality a continuing source of malaise.
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Inflammatory Rhetoric? Islamic State Has Nothing on India’s Far Right

India’s President Narendra Modi is a member of the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party. (Photo: Flickr Commons)

India’s President Narendra Modi is a member of the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party. (Photo: Flickr Commons)

For those reeling at the ever-increasing xenophobia of many American conservatives (foremost among them, Donald Trump), for those saddened by the rise of nationalist and nativist movements in Europe that are openly anti-Muslim … we present the face of anti-Islam in India. Reports the Indian Express:

Speaker after speaker urged Hindus to “corner Muslims and destroy the demons (rakshas)”, while declaring that “all preparations” had been made to effect “badla (revenge)” before the 13th-day death rituals for Mahaur. “Human skulls would be offered to his martyrdom,” VHP district secretary Ashok Lavania, who has been jailed earlier for assaults on Muslims, said.

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Weapons Sales to Saudi Arabia Probably Not Looking So Good to Hillary Clinton Now

Selling weapons to Saudi Arabia is bad enough, but celebrating it is even worse. (Photo: Zimbio)

Selling weapons to Saudi Arabia is bad enough, but celebrating it is even worse. (Photo: Zimbio)

Saudi airstrikes on Yemen, which have killed more than 2,800 civilians thus far and, incidentally, devastated three Doctors Without Borders facilities, are led by F-15s made by Boeing. The Intercept posted a short, discomfiting article by Lee Fang, in which he writes:

A few years earlier, as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton made weapons transfer to the Saudi government a “top priority,” according to her closest military aide.

And now, newly released emails show that her aides kept her well-informed of the approval process for a $29.4 billion sale in 2011 of up to 84 advanced F-15SA fighters, manufactured by Boeing, along with upgrades to the pre-existing Saudi fleet of 70 F-15 aircraft and munitions, spare parts, training, maintenance, and logistics.

The deal was finalized on Christmas Eve 2011. Afterward, Jake Sullivan, then Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and now a senior policy adviser on her presidential campaign, sent her a celebratory email string topped with the chipper message: “FYI — good news.”

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It’s Not Only the U.S. That Israel Resents

Many Israeli politicians admire Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Image: Donkey Hotey / Flickr Commons)

Many Israeli politicians admire Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Image: Donkey Hotey / Flickr Commons)

Israel is becoming more and more of an authoritarian state, in the mold of Russia or China. In an article in the London Review of Books titled Israel’s Putinisation, Adam Shatz writes:

Israeli politicians have made no secret of their admiration for Putin, a tough, ruthless leader whose resolve – and preference for military solutions – stands in sharp contrast to the caution and indecision of Barack Obama. Putin is also, in Israeli eyes, refreshingly indifferent to human rights. As relations with the Obama administration have cooled … Israel has increasingly turned to Russia, as well as to China, from which it now imports more than it does from the US.

… Writing in 2003, at a time of high Euro-optimism, Tony Judt described Israel as a ‘characteristically late 19th-century separatist project’ in ‘a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers and international law … Israel, in short, is an anachronism.’ Today, it is Judt’s cheerfully Hegelian description of ‘a world that has moved on’ that seems out of step with the neo-tribal spirit of the times. Israel does not seem like such an outlier in a world reshaped by the drive towards ethnic and religious separatism, the militarised policing of frontiers, and the emergence of authoritarian populist governments.

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Military Victories Are Counterproductive If They Leave a Political Vacuum

 The Iraqi army was only able to recapture Ramadi with the help of heavy American bombing, leaving the city became a barren landscape. (Photo: Media World Bulletin)


The Iraqi army was only able to recapture Ramadi with the help of heavy American bombing, leaving the city became a barren landscape. (Photo: Media World Bulletin)

After World War II the Allies refrained from either punishing Germany and Japan, or letting those shattered countries recover as best they could. Instead the Americans helped restore their former enemies’ economies so they could begin to rebuild. The generous U.S. aid that poured into Western Europe under the Marshall plan turned the region into a lucrative market for American consumer goods and provided reliable allies against the Soviet Union. The Germans in turn acknowledged the damage they had done under the Nazis and paid restitution to the survivors.

Similarly, the American occupation of Japan under Douglas MacArthur was wisely  aimed at rebuilding a country whose cities had been turned to ashes by U.S. bombing. Again the result was to turn a wartime enemy into a friendly and potentially powerful ally against Communist China. Meanwhile, Japan was to remain demilitarized for the foreseeable future.
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Tunisia on Fire (Part 1)

If not for repeated intervention by its youth, civil rights organizations, and labor unions, Tunisia would be in even worse shape than it already is. (Photo: Dennis Jarvis / Flickr)

If not for repeated intervention by its youth, civil rights organizations, and labor unions, Tunisia would be in even worse shape than it already is. (Photo: Dennis Jarvis / Flickr)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

1.

Five years after the onset of the sociopolitical explosion, “the Arab Spring,” Tunisia, the country where it began, is bogged down in a deepening socio-economic crisis, lack of political vision (this despite a highly educated, sophisticated and politically savvy population) and an ongoing guerrilla war against Islamic radicals in the western and southern regions of the country that the government has not been able to extinguish, nor even bring under control. Although put forth as a kind of poster child for what might be considered the one “Arab Spring success story,” in fact, Tunisia is a country where disillusionment at successive governments’ paralysis to address the crisis runs deep. If not for the repeated intervention of Tunisia’s civil society – its youth, civil rights organizations, labor unions – to push the government to act, the situation would most probably be even worse that it currently is.
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Happy Ending to Lost Radioactive Material Story Doesn’t Dispel Concerns About Islamic State WMD

The Islamic State may one day buy or steal radioactive material and turn it into a radiological dirty bomb. Pictured: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

The Islamic State may one day buy or steal radioactive material and turn it into a radiological dirty bomb. Pictured: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

In November 2015, potent radioactive material was stolen from a U.S. oilfield services company storage facility near Basra, Iraq. Reuters reports:

Iraq is searching for “highly dangerous” radioactive material stolen last year, according to an environment ministry document and seven security, environmental and provincial officials who fear it could be used as a weapon if acquired by Islamic State.

…  The material is classed as a Category 2 radioactive source by the IAEA, meaning that if not managed properly it could cause permanent injury to a person in close proximity to it for minutes or hours, and could be fatal to someone exposed for a period of hours to days.

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Enough Islamic State Civilians Are Already Being Killed Without Carpet Bombing, Thanks

Sen. Ted Cruz called for “carpet” bombing the Islamic State despite likely casualties to civilians. (Photo: Matt Johnson / Flickr)

Sen. Ted Cruz called for “carpet” bombing the Islamic State despite likely casualties to civilians. (Photo: Matt Johnson / Flickr)

Senator Ted Cruz (Texas -R) has taken much criticism for urging the United States to “carpet bomb” the Islamic State. The humanitarian consequences would be obvious. In a debate of the Republican candidates for president held January 28, reports NBC News, he said he would “apologize to nobody”  for that.

“It is not tough talk, it is a different fundamental military strategy than what we’ve seen from Barack Obama,” Cruz said. Cruz appealed to the example of the 1991 Persian Gulf war, which he said featured a higher rate of air strikes.

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Arms Control: Worse Than Baby Steps

Nuclear weapons are as much of an emergency for the earth as global warming, but their abolition is treated as if we have all the time in the world. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons )

Nuclear weapons are as much of an emergency for the earth as global warming, but their abolition is treated as if we have all the time in the world. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons )

In the realm of public opinion, nuclear weapons have been replaced by global warming as the world’s greatest existential threat. One can debate which is more of an emergency, but we don’t wish to contribute to any perceived need for them to compete for space in the minds of the public. In his latest Bulletin for the Los Alamos Study Group, Executive Director Greg Mello writes about nuclear weapons:
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Would Sanders Be the Arms Control President We Thought We Were Getting in Obama?

President Obama may not have given away the $1.2 million award from the Nobel committee, but that doesn’t mean he should have abandoned his anti-nuclear mission, as well.

President Obama may not have given away the $1.2 million award from the Nobel committee, but that doesn’t mean he should have abandoned his anti-nuclear mission, as well. (Photo: The Official White House Photostream / Flickr)

President Obama may not have given away the $1.2 million award from the Nobel committee, but that doesn’t mean he should have abandoned his anti-nuclear mission, as well.

In an article at Breaking Defense, Mark Cancian, a former top defense budget analyst at the Office of Management and Budget under President Obama, presents a “thought experiment.”

What if Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders becomes president? What would a Sanders defense program look like?

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