Clinton and Sanders on Mideast War and Kissinger’s Legacy (PBS Debate)

February 12, 2016 by  
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By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Both the Middle East conflicts and the ghost of the Vietnam War haunted the PBS Democratic debate Thursday evening. Vietnam was symbolized by Henry Kissinger, former Nixon National Security Adviser (1968-1975) and Secretary of State for Nixon and Gerald Ford (1973-77).

In the last Democratic debate, Sec. Clinton had boasted openly of her close relationship to Kissinger. Last night, Sanders used that relationship to critique Clinton as a warmonger:

“I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger. And in fact, Kissinger’s actions in Cambodia, when the United States bombed that country, overthrew Prince Sihanouk, created the instability for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to come in, who then butchered some 3 million innocent people, one of the worst genocides in the history of the world. So count me in as somebody who will not be listening to Henry Kissinger.”

Sanders deploys Kissinger as a symbol of war and aggression, blaming him for the Nixon administration decision to widen the Vietnam War to Cambodia, and for the subsequent Khmer Rouge genocide. By tying him to Sec. Clinton, Sanders is hoping to depict her as an inveterate war monger in he arena of Public consciousness.

Clinton did not reply effectively, resorting instead to saying that as secretary of State you listen to all kinds of people.

Sanders continued the ‘warmonger’ tack:

“Now I think an area in kind of a vague way, or not so vague, where Secretary Clinton and I disagree is the area of regime change. Look, the truth is that a powerful nation like the United States, certainly working with our allies, we can overthrow dictators all over the world.

And God only knows Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. We could overthrow Assad tomorrow if we wanted to. We got rid of Gadhafi. But the point about foreign policy is not just to know that you can overthrow a terrible dictator, it’s to understand what happens the day after.

And in Libya, for example, the United States, Secretary Clinton, as secretary of state, working with some other countries, did get rid of a terrible dictator named Gadhafi. But what happened is a political vacuum developed. ISIS came in, and now occupies significant territory in Libya, and is now prepared, unless we stop them, to have a terrorist foothold.”

Sanders even went back to the CIA overthrow of the Iranian nationalist prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, in 1953.

This time, Clinton was a little better prepared, claiming that Sanders’s voting record reveals that he was less consistently anti-war than he now maintains:

“CLINTON: If I could just respond. Two points. One, Senator Sanders voted in 1998 on what I think is fair to call a regime change resolution with respect to Iraq, calling for the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

He voted in favor of regime change with Libya, voted in favor of the Security Council being an active participate in setting the parameters for what we would do, which of course we followed through on.

Clinton also defended herself from the charge of lacking political judgment by saying that she was among those who urged President Obama to send a Navy Seals team in after Osama Bin Laden. She thus recovered from he charge of serial interventionism by instancing a positive intervention.

On Syria, Sanders continued to urge a rapprochement with Iran, and Clinton attacked him on that point.

The focus was not in fact on Syria but on Iran. Clinton is making a play for older more conservative voters, whether Jewish or Gentile, who are wealthy enough to give substantial donations to her PACs. Sanders feels as though he doesn’t need those money men since he has a wide grassroots donor base.

Sanders argued that Iran could gradually be brought in to a better relationship with the US, just as Cuba had been. He thus turned the table on Clinton, since she couldn’t strongly denounce either principle without attacking President Obama, who is very popular with South Carolina African-Americans. The two candidates are vying for the African-American vote there, which is 56% of the Democratic vote.

That is the way that Kissinger hung over the debate on the modern Middle East. Kissinger is an exemplar of Realism, an amoral approach to foreign policy, seeking to uphold US interests without reference to ethics.

Clinton uses Kissinger as a way of underlining her ability to talk to Republicans and to avoid petty boycotting of others.

Bernie came close to accusing her of hanging out with war criminals.

—–

Related video:

PBS: “Sanders calls out Clinton on taking advice from Henry Kissinger”

Is our Military-Industrial Complex a Fat Spoiled Brat?

February 11, 2016 by  
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By William J. Astore | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

The word “affluenza” is much in vogue. Lately, it’s been linked to a Texas teenager, Ethan Couch, who in 2013 killed four people in a car accident while driving drunk. During the trial, a defense witness argued that Couch should not be held responsible for his destructive acts. His parents had showered him with so much money and praise that he was completely self-centered; he was, in other words, a victim of affluenza, overwhelmed by a sense of entitlement that rendered him incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. Indeed, the judge at his trial sentenced him only to probation, not jail, despite the deaths of those four innocents.

Aerial view of the Pentagon, Arlington, VA Aerial view of the Pentagon, Arlington, VA h/t Wikipedia

Experts quickly dismissed “affluenza” as a false diagnosis, a form of quackery, and indeed the condition is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. Yet the word caught on big time, perhaps because it speaks to something in the human condition, and it got me to thinking. During Ethan Couch’s destructive lifetime, has there been an American institution similarly showered with money and praise that has been responsible for the deaths of innocents and inadequately called to account? Is there one that suffers from the institutional version of affluenza (however fuzzy or imprecise that word may be) so much that it has had immense difficulty shouldering the blame for its failures and wrongdoing?

The answer is hidden in plain sight: the U.S. military. Unlike Couch, however, that military has never faced trial or probation; it hasn’t felt the need to abscond to Mexico or been forcibly returned to the homeland to face the music.

Spoiling the Pentagon

First, a caveat. When I talk about spoiling the Pentagon, I’m not talking about your brother or daughter or best friend who serves honorably. Anyone who’s braving enemy fire while humping mountains in Afghanistan or choking on sand in Iraq is not spoiled.

I’m talking about the U.S. military as an institution. Think of the Pentagon and the top brass; think of Dwight Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex; think of the national security state with all its tentacles of power. Focus on those and maybe you’ll come to agree with my affluenza diagnosis.

Let’s begin with one aspect of that affliction: unbridled praise. In last month’s State of the Union address, President Obama repeated a phrase that’s become standard in American political discourse, as common as asking God to bless America. The U.S. military, he said, is the “finest fighting force in the history of the world.”

Such hyperbole is nothing new. Five years ago, in response to similar presidential statements, I argued that many war-like peoples, including the imperial Roman legions and Genghis Khan’s Mongol horsemen, held far better claims to the “best ever” Warrior Bowl trophy. Nonetheless, the over-the-top claims never cease. Upon being introduced by President Obama as his next nominee for secretary of defense in December 2014, for instance, Ash Carter promptly praised the military he was going to oversee as “the greatest fighting force the world has ever known.” His words echoed those of the president, who had claimed the previous August that it was “the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped military in human history.” Similar hosannas (“the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known”) had once been sprinkled liberally through George W. Bush’s speeches and comments, as well as those of other politicians since 9/11.

In fact, from the president to all those citizens who feel obliged in a way Americans never have before to “thank” the troops endlessly for their efforts, no other institution has been so universally applauded since 9/11. No one should be shocked then that, in polls, Americans regularly claim to trust the military leadership above any other crew around, including scientists, doctors, ministers, priests, and — no surprise — Congress.

Imagine parents endlessly praising their son as “the smartest, handsomest, most athletically gifted boy since God created Adam.” We’d conclude that they were thoroughly obnoxious, if not a bit unhinged. Yet the military remains just this sort of favored son, the country’s golden child. And to the golden child go the spoils.

Along with unbridled praise, consider the “allowance” the American people regularly offer the Pentagon. If this were an “affluenza” family unit, while mom and dad might be happily driving late-model his and her Audis, the favored son would be driving a spanking new Ferrari. Add up what the federal government spends on “defense,” “homeland security,” “overseas contingency operations” (wars), nuclear weapons, and intelligence and surveillance operations, and the Ferraris that belong to the Pentagon and its national security state pals are vrooming along at more than $750 billion dollars annually, or two-thirds of the government’s discretionary spending. That’s quite an allowance for “our boy”!

To cite a point of comparison, in 2015, federal funding for the departments of education, interior, and transportation maxed out at $95 billion — combined! Not only is the military our favored son by a country mile: it’s our Prodigal Son, and nothing satisfies “him.” He’s still asking for more (and his Republican uncles are clearly ready to turn over to him whatever’s left of the family savings, lock, stock, and barrel).

On the other hand, like any spoiled kid, the Defense Department sees even the most modest suggested cuts in its allowance as a form of betrayal. Witness the whining of both those Pentagon officials and military officers testifying before Congressional committees and of empathetic committee members themselves. Minimalist cuts to the soaring Pentagon budget are, it seems, defanging the military and recklessly endangering American security vis-a-vis the exaggerated threats of the day: ISIS, China, and Russia. In fact, the real “threat” is clearly that the Pentagon’s congressional “parents” might someday cut down on its privileges and toys, as well as its free rein to do more or less as it pleases.

With respect to those privileges, enormous budgets drive an unimaginably top-heavy bureaucracy at the Pentagon. Since 9/11, Congressional authorizations of three- and four-star generals and admirals have multiplied twice as fast as their one- and two-star colleagues. Too many generals are chasing too few combat billets, contributing to backstabbing and butt-kissing. Indeed, despite indifferent records in combat, generals wear uniforms bursting with badges and ribbons, resembling the ostentatious displays of former Soviet premiers — or field marshals in the fictional Ruritarian guards.

Meanwhile, the proliferation of brass in turn drives budgets higher. Even with recent modest declines (due to the official end of major combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan), the U.S. defense budget exceeds the combined military budgets of at least the next seven highest spenders. (President Obama proudly claims that it’s the next eight.) Four of those countries — France, Germany, Great Britain, and Saudi Arabia — are U.S. allies; China and Russia, the only rivals on the list, spend far less than the United States.

With respect to its toys, the military and its enablers in Congress can never get enough or at a high enough price. The most popular of these, at present, is the under-performing new F-35 jet fighter, projected to cost $1.5 trillion (yes, you read that right) over its lifetime, making it the most expensive weapons system in history. Another trillion dollars is projected over the next 30 years for “modernizing” the U.S. nuclear arsenal (this from a president who, as a candidate, spoke of eliminating nuclear weapons). The projected acquisition cost for a new advanced Air Force bomber is already $100 billion (before the cost overruns even begin).  The list goes on, but you catch the drift.

A Spoiled Pentagon Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

To complete our affluenza diagnosis, let’s add one more factor to boundless praise and a bountiful allowance: a total inability to take responsibility for one’s actions. This is, of course, the most repellent part of the Ethan Couch affluenza defense: the idea that he shouldn’t be held responsible precisely because he was so favored.

Think, then, of the Pentagon and the military as Couch writ large. No matter their mistakes, profligate expenditures, even crimes, neither institution is held accountable for anything.

Consider these facts: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are quagmires. The Islamic State is spreading. Foreign armies, trained and equipped at enormous expense by the U.S. military, continue to evaporate. A hospital, clearly identifiable as such, is destroyed “by accident.” Wedding parties are wiped out “by mistake.” Torture (a war crime) is committed in the field. Detainees are abused. And which senior leaders have been held accountable for any of this in any way? With the notable exception of Brigadier General Janis Karpinski of Abu Ghraib infamy, not a one.

After lengthy investigations, the Pentagon will occasionally hold accountable a few individuals who pulled the triggers or dropped the bombs or abused the prisoners. Meanwhile, the generals and the top civilians in the Pentagon who made it all possible are immunized from either responsibility or penalty of any sort. This is precisely why Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling memorably wrote in 2007 that, in the U.S. military, “a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.” In fact, no matter what that military doesn’t accomplish, no matter how lacking its ultimate performance in the field, it keeps getting more money, resources, praise.

When it comes to such subjects, consider the Republican presidential debate in Iowa on January 28th. Jeb Bush led the rhetorical charge by claiming that President Obama was “gutting” the military. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio eagerly agreed, insisting that a “dramatically degraded” military had to be rebuilt. All the Republican candidates (Rand Paul excepted) piled on, calling for major increases in defense spending as well as looser “rules of engagement” in the field to empower local commanders to take the fight to the enemy. America’s “warfighters,” more than one candidate claimed, are fighting with one arm tied behind their backs, thanks to knots tightened by government lawyers. The final twist that supposedly tied the military up in a giant knot was, so they claim, applied by that lawyer-in-chief, Barack Obama himself.

Interestingly, there has been no talk of our burgeoning national debt, which former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen once identified as the biggest threat facing America. When asked during the debate which specific federal programs he would cut to reduce the deficit, Chris Christie came up with only one, Planned Parenthood, which at $500 million a year is the equivalent of two F-35 jet fighters. (The military wants to buy more than 2,000 of them.)

Throwing yet more money at a spoiled military is precisely the worst thing we as “parents” can do. In this, we should resort to the fiscal wisdom of Army Major General Gerald Sajer, the son of a Pennsylvania coal miner killed in the mines, a Korean War veteran and former Adjutant General of Pennsylvania. When his senior commanders pleaded for more money (during the leaner budget years before 9/11) to accomplish the tasks he had assigned them, General Sajer’s retort was simple: “We’re out of money; now we have to think.”

Accountability Is Everything

It’s high time to force the Pentagon to think. Yet when it comes to our relationship with the military, too many of us have acted like Ethan Couch’s mother. Out of a twisted sense of love or loyalty, she sought to shelter her son from his day of reckoning. But we know better. We know her son has to face the music.

Something similar is true of our relationship to the U.S. military. An institutional report card with so many deficits and failures, a record of deportment that has led to death and mayhem, should not be ignored. The military must be called to account.

How? By cutting its allowance. (That should make the brass sit up and take notice, perhaps even think.) By holding senior leaders accountable for mistakes. And by cutting the easy praise. Our military commanders know that they are not leading the finest fighting force since the dawn of history and it’s time our political leaders and the rest of us acknowledged that as well.

William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), is a TomDispatch regular. He blogs at Bracing Views.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 William J. Astore

Via Tomdispatch.com

Russia and Iran are allied in Syria – but are they as close as they seem?

February 11, 2016 by  
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Marzieh Kouhi-Esfahani | ( The Conversation | – –

After years of isolation, Iran is slowly coming back in from the cold after the deal to curb its nuclear programme. And as it starts to reassert itself more openly in the world order, it’s rekindling a stormy affair with an old flame: Russia.

The two countries have discussed opening a joint bank, co-operation in space research, and undertaking preparations for establishing a free trade area between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and Iran under Putin’s direct order. They’ve also joined forces in fighting anti-government groups in Syria, where they both view shoring up the Assad government as perhaps the least worst way to stabilise the conflict there.

All seems rosy then. But not so fast: these are two countries with a long history of acrimony and suspicion, and based on all historical precedent, they could well find themselves at odds again soon.

Difficult history

Over the last four centuries, the two countries’ relations have fluctuated between adversarial rivalry and friendly partnership. For ordinary Iranians, Russia is a reminder of defeat. National pride is still wounded from the loss of the Caucasian Khanates, significant territories on the northern parts of the Aras River which were ceded to Russia after what was then Persia was defeated in two Russia-Persian wars in the 19th century.

To older generations of Iranians, Russia is also a reminder of occupation; as a consequence of Russia’s initial refusal to withdraw the Red Army from Iran, which both Moscow and the Allies had occupied during World War II to create a route to send supplies for the Soviet Union’s war effort.

Throughout this long history, in addition to ideological influences of Russian political trends over Iranian elites, Russia has exerted a gravitational pull on Iran’s foreign policy calculations. It was a big factor in Iran’s decision to claim neutrality for two centuries – a policy that ended in 1955, when Tehran took the plunge to join the pro-Western/anti-Soviet Baghdad Pact, modelled after NATO, which provided incentive for member countries to commit to mutual co-operation and protection, as well as non-intervention in one another’s affairs.

Equally, Moscow has always been an important factor in the way other countries approach Iran. Throughout the 19th century, Persia was affected by Anglo-Russian conflict of interests; that pressure eventually resulted in the separation of Herat from Persia, to work as a buffer zone which would keep the British-controlled India away from the Russians’ agitations and possible encroachment. And throughout the Cold War, Iran was valued as a major bulwark against the Soviet’s potential expansion to the Middle East and a check on its influence there.

The 1979 Islamic Revolution introduced a strongly ideological dimension to the two countries’ relations. The Soviet Union initially welcomed the revolution, hoping that the anti-imperialist and anti-American bent of the new government could flatter Soviet interests in the region. But that calculation soon proved wrong.

With the revolutionary government’s “neither east, nor west” policy, relations turned cold, particularly due to Moscow’s provision of extensive military assistance to Iraq during its 1980-1988 war with Iran. Things got even worse when top-rank members of Iran’s Soviet-supported Tudeh party were arrested and 18 Russian diplomats were deported in 1983. There were no significant improvements till the end of Iran-Iraq war, when reciprocal high-level diplomatic visits initiated something of a thaw.

Marriage of convenience

Russia and Iran have been mostly friendly ever since, though their relations are still subject to a good deal of flux. Iran continuously has tried to respect Russia’s sensitivities, particularly regarding its regional policies: it held back on recognising the former Soviet Republics’ independence before the official dissolution of the USSR, refused to get involved in the Chechnya conflict, and has consistently kept its relations with the former Soviet republics within the confines of Moscow’s worldview.

Tehran’s regional and international isolation has been pushing it towards Moscow, in the hope that the Russians would shield Iran from further pressure. That strategy paid off at times, particularly during the saga over Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme: in 2005, Moscow tried to mediate between Tehran and the West while sticking to the line that there was no definitive proof that Iran’s nuclear activities were being militarised.

But just as Iran must always factor Russia into its dealings with the West, Russia always factors its relations with the West into its dealings with Iran.

Whenever Russia’s relations with Western countries have warmed up, it has generally taken a tougher line with Iran. This was made plain in 2011 when it publicly refused to supply Iran with S-300 surface-to-air missiles. On the other hand, when in trouble with the West, Russia warms towards Iran. Now that it’s struggling under sanctions imposed over its role in the Ukraine crisis, the S-300 missiles have reportedly been delivered to Iran after all.

So for all that Iran is Russia’s biggest trade partner in the Middle East, and for all that they seem to have found a common cause in backing the Syrian government, the two countries will never be mutually devoted partners. Alongside their long history of mutual suspicion, they are still rivals for security influence and energy resources in Central Asia and the Caucasus. They also still have great differences over the Caspian Sea, even as they work together to keep it beyond NATO’s influence.

So what the world sees between the two countries is something much more complicated than a strategic partnership. It’s an on-off marriage of convenience – albeit one that tends to heat up when it suits the partners.

The Conversation

Marzieh Kouhi-Esfahani, PhD student, School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Press TV: “Iran, Russia looking to develop strategic partnership”

Russia Warns of ‘World War’ as Saudi Plans Syria Intervention

February 11, 2016 by  
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TeleSur | – –

Saudi Arabia’s decision to send troops to Syria is “final” and “irreversible,” Saudi military spokesman Ahmed Al-Assiri told reporters Thursday evening as he confirmed earlier comments about sending troops to the country. But Russia has warned the move could mark the beginning of a new “world war.”

Assiri added that Riyadh is “ready” and will fight with the United States-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State group in Syria. When asked about the timing of sending the troops, he said that Washington is more suitable to answer that question.

The Saudi comments Thursday come just one week after Riyadh said it was “ready” to send thousands of troops to Syria if the U.S.-led coalition decides on a ground operation in the country.

Thursday’s comments confirm the existence of the plan and the Saudis are expected to dispatch troops to Syria at some time in the future.

Responding to the Saudi comments, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told the German Handelsblatt business daily that Saudi Arabia and its Western allies must sit at the negotiating table "instead of unleashing a new World War."

Observers of the Syrian conflict say a ground intervention will be framed as a humanitarian intervention to help civilians and would involve Turkey and Saudi Arabia along with U.S. troops in Syria.

“Armed intervention by the Sunni states could be presented as the creation of ‘a safe zone’ for the tens of thousands of displaced people in the area, though it certainly would not be safe as it would be in the center of a battle zone,” Patrick Cockburn, award-winning Middle East journalist and correspondent, wrote for The Independent Thursday.

“If Saudi Arabia does intervene in this part of Syria it will become yet one more combatant in the most complex and dangerous battlefield in the world,” he concluded.

A new report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research released Thursday says 11.5 percent of Syria’s 22.5 million population has been killed or injured since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. Almost 500,000 people have been killed, doubling previous estimates.

Via TeleSur

—-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT: “‘Pretext to involve US’: UAE joins Gulf monarchies ready to send troops to Syria”

In PBS Debate, did Clinton succeed in Hurting Sanders with Black Voters?

February 11, 2016 by  
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Cenk Uygur, Ana Kasparian, Jimmy Dore and John Iadarola | (The Young Turks Video) | – –

“What was the biggest fail at the PBS NewsHour Democratic Debate? The Young Turks panel of Cenk Uygur, Ana Kasparian, Jimmy Dore and John Iadarola discuss. Who do you think won the debate, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders? Do you agree with TYT’s opinion?” …

The Young Turks: “PBS NewsHour Democratic Debate: The Biggest Fail Was…”

Israel razes Over 40 Palestinian homes, buildings in Jordan Valley

February 11, 2016 by  
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Ma’an News Agency | – –

TUBAS (Ma’an) — Israeli forces on Thursday destroyed over 40 Palestinian homes and structures in the Tubas district of the occupied West Bank as ongoing Israeli policies in the Jordan Valley continue to drive Palestinians out of their homes.

A Palestinian official from the governor’s office in Tubas, Mutaz Bsharat, told Ma’an that Israeli forces and bulldozers stormed the Palestinian communities of al-Farisiya and Khallet al-Khader and demolished seven homes, displacing seven families.

Forces also demolished 35 structures in the Bardala and Ein al-Baida communities, Bsharat added.

366576C Courtesy Ma’an Images

Tubas Mayor Rabih Khandaqji told Ma’an that local and international organizations were carrying out efforts to aid Palestinians displaced during the demolitions and to rebuild destroyed structures.

A spokesperson for Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) did not have immediate information on the demolitions.

Israel has carried out near-daily demolitions in the occupied Palestinian territory since the start of this month and destroyed 42 Palestinian-owned structures in the last week of January alone, displacing 168 people, including 94 children.

The communities targeted in Thursday’s demolitions are all located in Area C, the over 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control where building permits are near-impossible for Palestinians to obtain from Israel.

As a result, Palestinian communities are forced to build illegally and face the constant threat of demolition and displacement.

Threats of displacement for the thousands of Palestinian Bedouins living in the Jordan Valley in particular have reportedly increased dramatically since 2012.

Rights groups argue that Israel aims to fully annex the strategic area of land and is unlikely to return the occupied area to Palestinians.

In addition to demolition, Israeli rights group B’Tselem earlier this month pointed to the use of Israeli military training exercises as a means of forcible displacement of Palestinians from the Jordan Valley.

Palestinians are frequently ordered to evacuate their villages during military trainings, and B’Tselem reported that military exercises carried out last month caused severe damage to crops belonging to Palestinian communities.

The group said that while no Israeli official has ever issued statement regarding how military training grounds are chosen, “the apparent selectiveness uncovers the motivation behind it — dispossession.”

Via Ma’an News Agency

City Love: LISC leader says long-time Detroit residents are an integral component of future neighborhood growth

February 11, 2016 by  
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Sharing a home with ten people came with challenges.

But, for Tahirih Ziegler and her siblings, the issues were often more critical than sharing bathrooms or finding privacy. The eldest of eight, Ziegler remembers bouncing around rental properties in western Michigan as her parents faced affordability challenges.

Though both parents were professionally employed, her dad’s commission-based pay slid on a scale.

“Depending on their income, at any time, because sales can fluctuate and having such a growing family, we actually moved 13 times,” she recalls.

Tahirih Ziegler

Tahirih Ziegler

By the time she turned 18 Ziegler’s parents had become homeowners. Still, the experience of frequently moving between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek helped shape her current passion for supporting affordable housing in Detroit neighborhoods. Having returned to her birthplace in 2010 when she was named executive director of Detroit Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC), Ziegler leads one of the 31-city non-profit’s key offices.

She has worked as a LISC program officer and then executive director of Michigan LISC, overseeing the program’s community development efforts in Grand Rapids, Flint, Lansing and Pontiac, among other communities. Today her staff occupies a 16th floor suite in the heart of downtown, tasked with helping to lead a corporate investment campaign to recharge Detroit.

“I’m really coming back to Detroit as a daughter of the city,” Ziegler tells TheHUB.

As a project manager and director of housing and neighborhood programs around the state, she cut her teeth in various aspects of community development, all the while grooming for the eventual challenge to secure resources for Detroit, which relatives on both sides of her family still call home.

In a city that reportedly accumulated more foreclosed homes in the past 10 years than the total number of houses in Buffalo, Detroit LISC committed to invest $50 million between 2014 and 2016. Ziegler says it will exceed that amount by year’s end.

“We provide resources for neighbors and residents to realize what they envision. We call these ‘quality of life’ plans,” she says. “It’s a different process than what other community financial institutions implement because it’s resident-driven, it’s inclusive, and it’s comprehensive.”

LISC presently concentrates its efforts in Grand Woodward (commonly known as the North End), Springwells Village, Grandmont Rosedale, Corktown and Osborn areas. It collaborates with community development corporations, neighborhood agencies and programs to secure lending from a deep well of financial resources, nationally.

Among other recent efforts, in 2014 LISC funneled $13.4 million into creating 107 affordable housing units and 103,870 square feet of space for business and community use, according to an annual report.

Additionally, in 2015 LISC invested in the Orleans Landing mixed-use development on Detroit’s near-east side, along with putting $5 million in new market tax credits into construction of the M1 Rail to support downtown revitalization, a departure from traditional, non-transit-related investment.

Tahirih Ziegler compressed

Scott Benson, City Council District 3, and Tahirih Ziegler at the ribbon cutting for Stafford Football Field at Lipke Park last October

But despite the influence and backing of LISC’s New York headquarters and access to national experts and funders throughout the country, Ziegler’s under no illusion her staff can single-handedly rescue Detroit neighborhoods from crisis-level challenges. She says she’s particularly impressed by the community investment leadership shown in the local philanthropic community, including the Skillman, Kellogg and Kresge Foundations that are working together to leverage resources and deploy necessary strategies for neighborhoods , she says.

Another challenge to Detroit LISC is generating opportunities to help residents who weathered the past decade’s nationwide housing crisis and keep them from leaving the city. Auto and house insurance rates and related issues are barriers to home ownership in Detroit among single families, so affordable rent dwellings deserve exploration as alternatives, says Ziegler.

“There are these large issues to scale in ways we never thought about before.”

Supporters of LISC’s work give Ziegler high marks for contributing to solutions. Wendy L. Jackson, deputy director of the Kresge Foundation’s Detroit Program, praises the executive director for what LISC calls “place-based investment” in LISC’s “sustainable communities.” They are Grand Woodward, Springwells, Grandmont Rosedale, Corktown and Osborn.

Corktown is one of LISC’s “sustainable communities"

Corktown is one of LISC’s “sustainable communities”

“When it comes to strengthening Detroit neighborhoods, Tahirih is a driving force,” Jackson says. “Through her leadership at Detroit LISC, she has been a dynamic advocate for neighborhood revitalization, and instrumental in the organization’s steady growth.”

Jackson says the Sustainable Communities program deserves special attention. It has “provided critical guidance to connect Detroit neighborhoods with much-needed resources and technical assistance.”

As an African-American woman at the helm of one of 16 local community financial institutions, Ziegler doesn’t fit common business profiles perhaps contributing to her sensitivity toward marginalized Detroiters, including seniors and military veterans.

“It’s important that we address the potential resident displacement issue with the increase of market rate private housing developments. We will have to be smart about our approach so long-time city residents’ aren’t pushed out by rising property values and rents,” Ziegler says.

“Everyone wants to live in neighborhoods that have amenities,” Ziegler says, “and that includes people across all economic backgrounds.

Long-time Detroit youth and neighborhood supporter Randy McNeil dies at 66

February 11, 2016 by  
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Randy McNeil loved Detroit and its residents, especially its young people. He wanted the best for them so he helped renovate parks and recreation centers, mentored hundreds of youth development leaders and dozens of youth organizations and helped thousands of young people find summer jobs.

Randy McNeil

Randy McNeil in his younger days

McNeil died on Monday, Feb. 8, just short of his 67th birthday. The loss is felt throughout Detroit, especially among the young people he’s mentored and the organizations he’s led.

He was involved with ARISE Detroit! from its beginning 10 years ago. He saw the benefits such an organization could bring to transforming Detroit’s neighborhoods and making them a safe, comfortable, energizing place for the city’s children. He gambled on the idea and helped founder Luther Keith move his idea forward.

As chairman of the ARISE Detroit! board, he demanded big ideas from the organization. Always energized, he didn’t just demand the big ideas, he was part of them. At one point he donated $2,000 to buy lawnmowers to groups ready to cut down the overgrowth in some neighborhoods.

When Keith approached him about putting an ARISE Detroit! t-shirt on the Spirit of Detroit statue to celebrate the organization’s Neighborhoods Day, he loved the big idea and was all in, grinning from ear to ear when it was announced to the board.

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“Randy McNeil was a champion for the children and residents of Detroit,” says Keith, executive director of ARISE Detroit!. “He worked tirelessly to make a difference, and he did make a difference in the lives he touched and the changes that he was able to make as a community leader. We must honor his legacy by continuing his work to create a better community. Randy was a great leader, smart, visionary and bold. Because of his leadership, ARISE Detroit! is in a strong position to move forward, guided by the foundation Randy helped build.”

“I had only known Randy for two years and in that time I was impressed by his commitment, passion and dedication to ARISE Detroit!,” says board member Ron Wood, vice president, small group underwriting and underwriting operations at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “His leadership as our chair will truly be missed, along with the friendship that we developed over our two year window of involvement. I am deeply saddened with Randy’s passing and my prayers go out to his family. He was one of the good guys!!!”

“Randy McNeil was many things to Detroit. And, although he did not seek the spotlight, he shined a bright light on community issues behind the scenes at ARISE Detroit!, says board member Jackie Berg, founder and publisher of the magazine TheHUB. “Every board, corporate and community leader who met Randy liked and respected him. This man knew and loved Detroit. An eternal optimist and educator, Randy guided our organization through the many trials and tribulations common to us all. He was resilient and through his example taught us all to be the same. Randy McNeil and his life’s accomplishments should be proudly remembered. He was a man who served Detroit – beautifully.”

“Randy McNeil was a gentle person who loved ARISE! Detroit with a great passion,” says another board member Sandy Hermanoff, president of Hermanoff Public Relations. “I will never forget when he called me a few months ago to determine on which committee I would like to serve. He had a hard time talking, but his leadership, dedication and commitment came though loud and clear. He will be missed, and all of us will miss his warm, genuine personality at our meetings. I know he will be there in spirit at our 10th Anniversary (Neighborhoods Day) celebration.”

McNeil also founded the Youth Sports and Recreation Commission, which became the Youth Development Commission (YDC) in 1995 as an initiative of the Skillman Foundation. It offers in-school support at more than 30 schools in the Detroit area and helps prepare students for college, and life.

Youth Development Commission

True to McNeil’s passion for giving back, YDC encourages these young people to volunteer and serve the community. Last year 60 young men of color transformed the look and feel of four Detroit neighborhoods as part of a paid work experience sponsored by JPMorgan Chase.

“With the passing of Randy McNeil, Detroit has lost a true champion for youth development,” says Rainy Hamilton Jr., board chair of the Youth Development Commission and president of Hamilton Anderson Associates.

McNeil will be truly missed. “It is my prayer that the family finds a measure of comfort and strength in knowing that we share in the grief and loss of our dearly departed Randy McNeil. God bless you, God keep you in His care,” says board member Pastor Annie Adams.

McNeil is survived by his wife Jacqueline, son Matthew and daughter Jennifer.

SERVICES FOR RANDY MCNEIL

Visitation: Sunday, February 14, O.H. Pye Funeral Home, 17600 Plymouth Rd., Detroit, MI 48227, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Funeral Service: Monday, February 15, Friendship Baptist Church, 3900 Beaubien St., Detroit, MI 48201, Family Hour: 12:00 p.m.: Services, 12:30 p.m.

– Writer’s note: I also serve as a member of the ARISE Detroit! board

Planning a Trip to Chicago with Kids

February 11, 2016 by  
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Planning a Trip to Chicago with Kids

It’s freezing and wintertime in Michigan and who doesn’t want to go to the Windy city for a long weekend? It sounds crazy, I know. Most people plan beach vacations but not us or at least not this year. We opted for Chicago for several reasons.

  1. Most of the sites we want to see are inside where we’ll be warm, regardless of the weather.
  2. It will be cheaper and not as busy. Hotel rates are very affordable this time of year.
  3. It’s within driving distance, saving us money.

If you’re planning a trip to Chicago with kids, I have some pointers to help you save money but to also help you optimize your time while you’re there. You want to see as much as possible and not go broke.

  • Consider a hotel with breakfast. If your family can get one hot meal and it’s included in your hotel cost, you’ll save in the long run. You can grab a granola bar or apple for a mid-morning snack too. Embassy Suites in Chicago offers breakfast that is made as you order it. If your kids can eat a later breakfast plus a snack, you might be able to skip lunch all together and have an early dinner. Saving even more money!
  • Visit the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. It’s free and open M-F from 8:30am-5pm. Free is good! Plus, it is a very educational tour.
  • Check for Tickmaster deals. We scored almost half off our Blue Man Group tickets by checking their deals and being flexible with the time of day that we’d attend the show. We wanted to go to the 7pm show but the 4pm show was discounted and cost me half the money. DEAL!
  • Use the subway. It’s there and it’s affordable. If you take a taxi everywhere, you’ll break the bank. For example, you can take the subway from downtown Chicago to the Rosemont Station and then transfer to a bus and get to the LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Chicago. The distance for a taxi is very expensive but the public transportation is affordable.
  • Get a GO Chicago Card®. You simply add attractions to your pass, buy one pass for each family member and use your passes from your phone. There are many pass options but if you buy an All-inclusive pass, you’ll lave 55% off the top attractions in Chicago. Plus, if you buy and All-inclusive pass, you’ll get the Hop-On-Hop-Off-Bus-Tour and this will give you transportation to Shedd aquarium, Field Museum, Millennium Park and many more attractions. No worrying about paying a taxi, you can hop on and off the bus, included in your pass! If you just want to see the top 5 Chicago attractions, check out the CityPASS. It’s like the Go Chicago Card but only covers a few attractions and it’s a huge savings!
  • Hit up Groupon. I love Groupon and if you’re looking for last minute deals on hotels, you have to check out Groupon first. There were SEVERAL deals listed for Chicago but we used credit card points instead. For example, when I searched, the Double Tree in Chicago was available for $64 a night. WOW! I checked coupons and the Marriott chain of hotels were offering 20% off booking a hotel. When in doubt, check Groupon.
  • Pack snacks and a reusable water bottle. This goes without saying but if you can pack your own snacks and fresh fruit plus a water bottle that you can fill, you won’t be wasting money on sugary soda or unhealthy snacks.
  • Start Saving for the American Girl Doll store. We knew we were going to Chicago so for my daughter’s birthday and Christmas, she asked for gift cards. Think smart, plan in advance, and everyone will be happier!

I’d love to hear your tricks and tips for saving money in Chicago or any family travel. Follow my family adventure to Chicago on Instagram and my other travel related posts.

 

The post Planning a Trip to Chicago with Kids appeared first on Green and Clean Mom ™.

          
 
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1920s roar back into Detroit to help the homeless with The Great Gatsby party

February 11, 2016 by  
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No bathtub gin, no gangsters, no revenue men, but there will be speakeasy at the Roaring Twenties style black-tie Detroit Gatsby Winter Gala that will help provide warm clothing, blankets and nourishing meals for the homeless in Detroit.

It’s a party you won’t want to miss. As F. Scott Fitzgerald writes in The Great Gatsby, “I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”

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The step back in time to the first modern decade will take place on March 5 from 8 p.m.-1 a.m. at the Charles T. Fisher Mansion and will benefit the Eimers Foundation. Tickets are $100 online and $120 at the door and can be purchased in advance at DetroitGatsbyLawnParty.com.

The Eimers Foundation was founded by 13-year-old Robby Eimers at the young age of 11 and it has done much in its two years to help the homeless.

Every Saturday he delivers warm clothing, blankets and nourishing meals to Detroit’s homeless. To continue his work Eimers wants to buy a food truck so even more people can be helped. All silent auction proceeds will go directly to help him reach that goal and expand his efforts to help his friends. For Robby, Sharing is Caring.

“We are honored to support an incredible young man like Robby Eimers who at the age of 13 is making such an enormous contribution to his community and to the disadvantaged of Detroit,”” says Alison Chevalier, who is organizing the event. “Robby is a wonderful example of the difference one person can make within his community. And there is no better venue than the historic Charles T. Fisher mansion, a true architectural treasure. We’re excited to provide our guests with a truly authentic 1920s experience, all while helping a great cause.”

You should also know Eimer’s 10-year-old sister, Emma, also gets involved. Her passion is to help animals and become a veterinarian so she started her own foundation called Furry Friends. She collects food for homeless animals and often delivers them to the pets of homeless.

That takes courage. Many of the homeless have big dogs to protect them and they live in tents in the fields, under bridges, in alleys or in abandon buildings. That doesn’t deter Emma. When she finds about one of these pets she takes food to them. As Robbie says “Most of us won’t go near the dogs, but Emma loves them and the dogs know it.”

When you step into the opulent 15,000 sq.-ft. 1922 English Tudor-style Charles T. Fisher Mansion in Detroit’s Boston Edison district you’re in for a treat. This is the first time the home has been opened to special guests.

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The details of the mansion are beyond impressive. The marble dance floor in the ballroom is stunning and be sure to check out the hidden speakeasy.

The 1920s atmosphere will be reenacted to its best ability (with maybe a hint of the modern) with authentic Hot Jazz provided by the Phil Ogilvie Rhythm Kings. Guests can quench their thirst at the champagne bar and fortify themselves with popular food from the era including oysters, shrimp cocktail and decadent desserts by Chef Brian Psenski. Cocktails and sudsy pints from Fort Street Brewery will be served in the speakeasy.

Fortune tellers also will be on hand and the Riffin’ Sisters will perform a tap dance number or two to give guests a breather from dancing the Charleston.

There is a certain irony in choosing the 1920s for a benefit since it is one of, if not the, most decadent of America’s eras but in another very fitting. Detroit saw great boom in the ‘20s, partially because of auto manufacturing, but also by less legal means.  Due to the proximity to Canada it was one of the major suppliers of illegal alcohol to the country… which lead to the rise of the infamous Purple Gang.

Here are a couple of quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby that you might want to use as a conversation starter at the party.

“It takes two to make an accident.”

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Conversations about what that means are endless.

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Robby Eimers

There is one quote that does not fit anyone attending this party, and certainly not Robby Eimers. “Human sympathy has its limits, and we were contented to let all their tragic arguments fade with the city lights behind.” This one fits them better. “As I walked on I was lonely no longer. I was a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler.”

If you want to learn more about the Eimers Foundation or Furry Friends please visit the website or the Facebook page.

The Detroit Winter Gala is sponsored by Pretty Bird Detroit, UAW-Ford National Programs Center and GreeningDetroit.com.

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