Adonis Diaries

A conversation Before the War in Yemen

The roots of the conflict in Yemen—a discussion between Washington Editor Andrew Cockburn and Sanaa-based political analyst Abdul-Ghani Al Iryani, with photographs by Alex Potter.

As Saudi Arabia continues to rain U.S.-supplied bombs and missiles on Yemen, the hapless country has predictably receded from the fruit-fly attention of the U.S. media.

When the Yemeni crisis does receive press, the coverage tends to the superficial. The infinite complexity of the country’s politics is reduced to the postcard-sized summary “Saudi-backed government versus Iranian-backed Houthi rebels”—except when the rubbing-out of one more alleged Al Qaeda bigwig needs to be trumpeted. 

There is of course a lot more to it than that. There always is in Yemeni politics, as I have learned over the years in talking to Sanaa-based political analyst Abdul-Ghani Al Iryani.

Al Iryani comes from a distinguished Yemeni family that has, through several generations, consistently argued for democratic reforms in Yemeni politics.

His uncle is a former prime minister, and his brother was a cabinet minister until 2011.

Al Iryani has used his ringside seat to master the country’s ever-shifting political scene. In particular he has been a close student of the career of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who took power in a 1978 coup (he began his rise as literally the only man in his faction of the Yemeni army who could drive a tank), remained president until 2012, and is now fighting desperately to regain control of the country in alliance with the Houthis.

the Houthis are members of the Zaidi sect of Islam that ruled North Yemen for hundreds of years before their monarchy was overthrown in 1962—with whom he has long had a tangled and bloody relationship.

Most of the tribes from Sana’a north to the Saudi border are Zaidis. The Islah party, on the other hand, of which Al Iryani makes frequent mention, is a Saudi-backed Islamist Sunni group.

Al Iryani has also made careful study of Saleh’s distant relative, army strongman Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar, whose career Saleh fostered until he came to view Al Ahmar as an over-mighty subject and so sought to undermine him; and Abdul Majeed Al Zindani, the jihadist mentor of Osama bin Laden (among others), whose Iman University, alma mater to many jihadists, including Anwar Al Awlaki, was long supported by Saudi Arabia.

Thanks to the Saudi bomb targeted on a Yemeni army munitions dump in mid-April that leveled much of Al Iryani’s neighborhood, driving him into (temporary, he hopes) exile, I recently had a chance to talk to him in Washington about the current war and the events leading up to it.

How’s your house?

Ruined. Right now I’m homeless. The Saudis are using very large bombs. It’s a war crime to use bunker-buster bombs in the city. When they hit an arms depot right at the edge of the city, they don’t bother to tell people to evacuate the area, although an advance warning would compromise nothing because the depot will not run away, and they’ve been bombing these depots constantly.

Eventually they said everybody has to get out of an area two kilometers from [various military bases around Sana’a].

But most of these bases are within three kilometers of each other. Basically they were being kind enough to ask two-and-a-half million people to evacuate the city. This didn’t make sense, and it’s impossible to do, so they’re giving people no choice but to stay in their homes and die.

How far was your house from the explosion?

About half a mile. The mountain exploded, about a thousand people were killed or injured. Eighty-four died right away, and then more died. 800 or so were taken to hospitals in the area around our neighborhood. Other people were taken to hospitals further away.

Now the people are living under these conditions. All the children I know are traumatized. One child, one of my relatives, goes into a coma every time the bombing starts. He will be scarred for life.

Young children are traumatized but also teenagers; they go into fits of hysteria.

Everyone that I know knows someone who’s died. They have no water, no electricity, no petrol, no medicines, and soon enough, within a few more weeks, no food. That’s two-and-a-half million people. These are the ones who are lucky enough to be in Sana’a city. It’s really worse in Taiz and Aden and the countryside.

Why is it worse there?

Because the fighting is much worse. In Taiz it’s house to house. The Houthis are responsible for most of the damage in Taiz. The Houthis are an outlaw organization, so we can understand that they will not pay any attention to international law with regards to conduct of a war.

But the coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia and operating under some kind of implicit sanction from the United Nations, they are committing war crimes on a daily basis.

How did this start—what led to this disaster?

Let me go back to the beginning when the Zaidi tribes of Yemen split during the 1962–70 Yemeni Royalist-Republican civil war. All of the Zaidi tribes surrounding Sanaa shifted their allegiance to the Republican regime, while the Zaidi tribes round Sadah, in the north, continued to owe allegiance to the Royalists.

Sadah was effectively separated from the rest of North Yemen to the extent that until recently the main currency in use in Sadah was the Saudi riyal. They didn’t mind. They existed without reference to the rest of Yemen, mostly smuggling khat and drugs to Saudi Arabia and buying their goods and food and so on from Saudi Arabia.

Two Yemeni men visit a graveyard and memorial of war martyrs.

Things changed when the Saudis set up a religious center teaching their brand of Islam.

It was established by Muqbil Al Wadie, who had been the second in command of the [Islamic extremist] cell that took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979 with the aim of overthrowing the Saudi royal family.

The commander of the cell was killed along with most of his followers, but Al Wadie survived and spent a couple of months in Saudi prison. Then they decided to use him to extend their sectarian influence in Yemen. So they sent him to the Dammaj district of Sadah to establish a Salafi school right in the heartland of Zaidi Yemen.

And that school was seen as an attack on the very existence of the Zaidi sect. There was a reaction by the Zaidis, and in reaction they started a group called the Believing Youth in 1992.

The Believing Youth requested assistance from Iran in the form of books and scholarships, basic things. It was a religious, peaceful movement, not specifically political. The Iranians asked President Saleh if he would allow it, and he encouraged them to support the Believing Youth.

Then in the 1997 elections Saleh was concerned that the Islah—the Sunni political party, which was allied with Ali Mohsen, Saleh’s distant relative, and the Ahmer family, who were powerful tribal leaders—was getting too big in Sadah, so he started supporting Hussein Al Houthi, the founder of the Houthi movement.

Hussein Al Houthi’s brother was elected to parliament, representing the GPC, Saleh’s party, in 1997.

So why did Saleh start fighting the Houthis?

In 2004 Saleh was invited to the G8 meeting at Georgia’s Sea Island in the U.S. as encouragement to go after Al Qaeda in Yemen. He went back and convened his tribal council, his inner circle, and told them that America was pressing for action against Al Qaeda.

Now in Yemen at that time Al Qaeda was largely viewed as an extension of Ali Mohsen’s power, because Mohsen was allied to the Sunni side of Yemeni politics, and Al Qaeda was on the extreme of the Sunnis, so he didn’t want to fight them.

So he suggested, “We should go after those Shia fanatics up in Sadah.” Saleh liked the idea because he wanted to use them as an excuse for not having gone in full force after Al Qaeda, which he didn’t want to do, to avoid clashing with Mohsen and Al Zindani. So they decided to go start a conflict in Sadah.

Then they turned to the Americans and said, “We’d love to go after Al Qaeda, and we promised to do so, and we will do so, but we really have to first [be] rid of those terrorists who are supported by Iran.” So from day one the Houthis were presented as an Iranian client, a terrorist movement, and all of that nonsense. That’s how it started in 2004.

In that first war, Saleh killed Hussein Al Houthi. Then he decided that he had done enough, especially given that Mohsen and Islah and the Sunnis in general redirected the war.

Rather than a war against just the Houthis in particular, it became a war against the elite of the entire Zaidi community, who are known as the Hashemites.

Saleh had a strong alliance with the Hashemites, so he didn’t want to go in that direction. So he had this big gathering of Hashemite leaders, and said, “You are my friends; I married into a Hashemite family; I have no problem with you. Your problem is with the other guy, with Mohsen.” He stopped the war.

Mohsen then found a way to restart it. I think that’s when Saleh decided, let this war in Sadah be the way to get rid of Mohsen. So the war continued from 2004 to early 2010. The reason was because Saleh was sending arms to the Houthis to degrade the forces of his army commander, Ali Mohsen.

A young girl visits the martyrs cemetery, which is dedicated to the men who died protecting Hussein Al Houthi.

Didn’t the Americans say, “Our enemy here is Al Qaeda, and our enemy is coming out of places like Dammaj.”?

Well, we were saying that, but the problem was Saleh was intimately involved in promoting and manipulating Al Qaeda to extort money, both military assistance and actual hard cash, from Saudi Arabia and from the Americans.

I usually say that Al Qaeda was in 3 factions. The biggest faction was working for Saleh and for government institutions, homeland security, political security, military intelligence. The second faction was working for Ali Mohsen and Islah and Al Zindani. And the third faction, a tiny small faction, was actually working for Osama Bin Ladin and Zawahiri. It’s still the case until today.

You mentioned the relationship between the Houthis and Iran. What exactly has been the relationship?

There is credible evidence that [the Houthis] have received certain high tech communication equipment, targeting equipment and stuff like that. But the weapons they use are actually from the Yemeni army. We know how it got there.

We know when Saleh sent them the antitank missiles. Most of the support from Iran is actually in training and political support. There are 5 thousand Houthi students studying in Iran today.

That is in addition to a large number of military trainees in southern Lebanon and in Iran. This is documented; it’s very credible. The Iranians tried their best in 2008 to convince the Yemeni government that they are not involved to the extent that the foreign minister of Iran offered to come to Sanaa to discuss the claims of the Yemeni government that they were supporting Houthis and answer any questions that may have arisen inadvertently by Iranian behavior. The Yemenis refused to receive him.

This tells you that the Yemeni government didn’t really have any evidence that they could present to him.

However, the continuous claims by the Yemeni government and the Saudi government that the Iranians were substantially involved in the conflict in Sadah became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the negotiations just before the Houthis took Sana’a last year it became clear that they were in close coordination with the Iranians.

Here is an example of that: One night, the negotiating team of the Houthis and the negotiating team of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi drafted an agreement to be discussed by both sides and to be agreed and signed the following morning. In the morning, before the Houthis came back to the negotiating table, the Omanis sent a copy of the agreement from Muscat to President Hadi, telling him the Iranians had agreed to support this agreement.

Now, the government side did not send the agreement to Iran. So the Houthis sent the agreement to the Iranians for their approval. The Iranians shared that with the Omanis, not intending to have that come back to the Yemeni government.

A few days before that the guy with the title of head of the Yemeni operating theater of the revolutionary guards in Iran sent a letter to President Hadi promising him that the Houthis will not take over Sana’a. Then he went into a lot of operational details. “We will accept this, and we will not accept that” and so on. It was as if he was actually running the campaign. It was officially delivered by the Iranian embassy to the president.

So by the time Sana’a was taken over, the Iranian involvement was clear.

However, I still argue that it is Not a patron-client relationship. The Houthis have their own domestic agenda, they rely very much on Iranian support, but they are not doing Iranian bidding.

The Houthis are Not as connected to Iran as Hezbollah in Lebanon because they are not the same sect; they are a different sect, close but not the same sect. Zaidis do not consider Ayatollah Khamanei [the Iranian supreme leader] to be their religious leader. There is no Iranian authority over the Zaidis of Yemen.

What was the role of the Saudis in the 2004–2010 wars against the Houthis?

At that time Saudi Arabia had a weak leadership. King Abdullah was not only weak but also in conflict with his powerful brothers of the Sudairi faction, leading to paralysis of the state on various issues of national security.

So Saudi policy toward Yemen up to 2009 was really rudderless and reactive. Then, in 2009 they were sucked into the war by Saleh. You know how Saleh is manipulative, a great tactician really. He managed to suck them in so that he could extort money, and he managed to extort several billion dollars in the name of fighting the “Iranian threat” in Sadah.

Within the Saudi regime there are 2 key factions, and maybe more beyond that, but two main factions, and at some point in the 2009 Saudi involvement in the war in Yemen, one faction was trying to use that war in competition with the other faction.

Up until 2009, the Yemeni file had been held by Prince Sultan, minister of defense. When he got sick and went off to die, the file had been transferred to Interior Minister Prince Nayef on the grounds that Yemen was becoming an internal security threat, so the Ministry of Interior, which controls the counterterrorism forces, were granted authority to deal with Yemen.

But Khalid Bin Sultan, son of Prince Sultan and deputy defense minister, wanted to restore his faction’s authority over the Yemen file, so he was anxious to get into a war, rather than just counterterrorist activity, the proper domain of the Ministry of Interior.

Yemeni boys raise their hands eagerly to answer a question in class. Their classroom in the Houthi-controlled area of Sa'ada is better supplied than most schools in Sana'a.

Did he get his chance?

In 2009 three hundred Houthis, at most, crossed into Saudi territory. Saleh drew them into it. By this time the lineup had changed. Ali Mohsen, the army commander, was supporting the Houthis, covertly, while Saleh was attacking them.

Saleh plan of using the Houthis to degrade Mohsen’s forces had worked; they were really worn down. Now he decided that it would be politically useful to put down the Houthis. So he attacked the Houthis with the Republican Guard forces that he controlled directly.

Mohsen meanwhile, to get at Saleh, effectively handed over a lot of bases, full of weapons, to the Houthis to use against Saleh. Meanwhile Saleh obtained the permission of King Abdullah to allow the Yemeni army to cross into Saudi Arabia and attack the Houthis from the rear. The Houthis responded by invading Saudi Arabia.

Khalid Bin Sultan immediately declared the whole region of southern Saudi Arabia to be a “killing zone’”—his words. He declared a general mobilization of the armed forces of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to confront those three hundred infiltrators. There was fighting for several months.

The Saudis carpet-bombed the entire border zone. When Khalid Bin Sultan declared southern Saudi Arabia to be a war zone he effectively banned the Ministry of Interior from the region. And so the counterterrorist forces who were properly trained to deal with this kind of security threat were not allowed to come in, and as a result the army couldn’t really sweep the infiltrators out of the border zone, and the Houthis came out victorious.

Because of 2009, the Saudis invested a couple of hundred billion dollars to strengthen and improve their armed forces. All the major investment in Saudi military preparedness was triggered by the 2009 war against the Houthis. That’s when they bought all those weapons from the Americans and the French and everyone.

What’s the lineup of forces now in Yemen?

Unfortunately it’s very skewed in favor of the coalition of Saleh, who controls a large part of the Yemeni army, and the Houthis. Together they control most of Yemeni government forces and institutions. They are in effective control of the state in Sana’a and most governorates [provinces]. Mukalla, an important port on the southern coast, is controlled by AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula].

And the Saudis are not bombing Mukalla, and they’re allowing food in. Have they traditionally been on good terms with AQAP?

Of course. Until maybe a few years after 9/11 they were still coordinating the bulk of financing of Abdul Majid Al Zindani [Osama Bin Laden’s spiritual mentor, on the U.S. terrorist list] and Iman University. But eventually they parted ways; the Saudis conducted a major campaign against AQAP in their territory. The strategy was to push the AQAP members out of Saudi Arabia and into Yemen. So they established a dragnet clearly open in one end, and they just pushed them into Yemen. It was very convenient for them. As part of the campaign they also severed direct relations with AQAP.

But if you look at individual people who moved out into the AQAP camps, first stop was Al Iman, second was Dammaj, and off to terrorist training camps. So these places that had been Saudi funded, that was the terrorist railroad.

True, Iman University did not lose their support until the Arab Spring, when Al Zindani came out openly against Saudi Arabia, on the side of Qatar and against Saudi Arabia. Because that was how the Arab Spring mobilization took place, Qatar on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other. I did ask the chairman of the university. He said the university was continuing to get [Saudi] support until 2011. And then after that, they had to downscale the accommodation and food and stipends and everything for the students. Dammaj I think continued to receive assistance. So maybe the educational institutions were kept on the Saudi payroll, but the jihadis and people who are directly involved in terrorist activity were no longer connected directly to the Saudis. They might have been connected indirectly through intermediaries. Al Zindani definitely continued to have good relations with the Saudis until the Arab Spring.

Saleh was so close to the Americans, so close to the Saudis, CIA director Brennan would call him up late at night; they had a relationship. Now he’s in an alliance with the Houthis, and the Americans are working with the Saudis to target him. What happened there?

I think the guy overplayed his hand. The negotiations are imbalanced between Saleh and the Americans, Saleh and the Saudis, because Saleh has his entire thinking focused on how to extort as much as possible from these two countries, while they were actually thinking about a whole range of things, fighting terrorism, development and their other concerns, so he managed to use AQAP, and he actually harbored them and provided them protection and safe houses in Sanaa. (Beyond Saleh, The Saudi and US policies are siding with the extremist terrorist of Al Qaeda in Yemen)

He provided them with safe houses in Sanaa?!

Yeah, at the same time as he is declaring that he is going to go to all-out war against AQAP.

I heard this from people who are intimately close to the process, including some people who are directly involved. So he kept extorting money and aid from these two countries. Eventually I think he was exposed.

Now he tried to make a deal with the Saudis, and the Saudis said there will be no deals. He sent his son to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef a few weeks ago, and basically Mohammed Bin Nayef listened to him while he said, “We will sever our relations from the Houthis, and we will eliminate them; we have 50,000 fighters. And in return sanctions against my father will be lifted, his money will be released, and I become president.” And Mohammed Bin Nayef said to him, “The meeting is over.” They are done trying to make a deal with [Saleh], because he has broken every deal he had with them. (So why the Saudi are targeting civilians?)

I always heard that he kept a lot of his money in cash, in shrink-wrapped hundred dollar bills in his basement. What has happened to that?

When one of his houses was bombed three weeks ago, there was talk about hundreds of millions being looted by his guards, neighbors, Houthis, etc. There’s no way of knowing. But I know people who he’s taken down to the basement to show them the money to keep them loyal to him.

Has the Saudi bombing campaign had much effect on the Houthis?

It’s really hard to quantify this. But the fact that the resistance to Houthi domination is now holding territory is definitely because of the Saudi bombing campaign.

If there was no Saudi involvement the Houthis-Saleh coalition would have controlled the whole country two months ago. They would have been able to take over Aden. There was no resistance in Taiz.

So the Saudis did have an impact in reducing the military capabilities of this coalition, and I think eventually they will force it to abandon its campaign to dominate. They have already agreed to go back to the negotiating table to reach an agreement on power sharing.

However, I have serious worries that the Saudis are not going to stop there. Some of the narrative coming out of Saudi Arabia is that they will exterminate the Houthis. (Those Saudi Wahhabis are a steady trend in exterminating their supposed enemies. Not this time around)

It’s very dangerous, because right now the reason we are having this conflict, the reason the peaceful transition (when Saleh was overthrown in 2011) was derailed in Yemen, was because of an imbalance of power between the Houthi-Saleh coalition and the rest of the factions.

To restore the peaceful transition we have to restore the balance. If the Saudis go for the destruction of the Houthis as a military force, then they will create the same imbalance vis-à-vis the other side, which is the Islah tribal Sunni coalition. Which means we will continue to have a military conflict.

It’s not civil war yet, in the sense that people are not killing each other because of their identity. They’re still fighting over nominally political issues, although the underlying polarization is around identity lines.  (It turned out to become a National war against the Saudi monarchy)

So I’m worried that what the Houthis did to push Yemen into a civil conflict in September 2014, the Saudis may end up doing again when they end their campaign by eliminating the Houthis. The Houthis must remain as a counterbalance to the others. That’s the ideal situation that we can come out with.

With no water, no food, will there be a Yemen left to have a political settlement?

This goes beyond my worst fears in the past two years. But I think that Yemen is quite resilient; we can’t destroy Yemen. If we stop the fighting before we get past a certain threshold point where the conflict becomes outright sectarian conflict, that’s when I will lose hope completely.

Yemeni tribesmen chew khat, a mild stimulant leaf used daily by many people in Yemen.

Is the khat still getting through?

Allahu akbar, thank god our khat supply was never interrupted in the worst of fighting. Moderate prices, no problem. The new de facto president is a khat dealer, the chief negotiator of the Houthis is a khat dealer. Some of the top commanders are khat dealers. Clearly there’s one thing they can do well, supplying khat to the entire nation.

Insightful interview on Yemen

The roots of the conflict in Yemen—a discussion between Washington Editor Andrew Cockburn and Sana’a-based political analyst Abdul-Ghani Al-Iryani, with…
harpers.org

Why does the US have 800 military bases around the world?

Eisenhower warns us of the military industrial complex.
Dwight D. Eisenhower exit speech on Jan.17,1961. Warning us of the military industrial complex.
youtube.com · 151,523 Shares · Nov 6, 2007

The US has around 800 military bases in other countries, which costs an estimated $100 billion annually, a number that could be much higher depending on whether you count the bases still open in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is according to American University professor David Vine in his forthcoming book Base Nation, in which he seeks to quantify the financial, environmental, and human costs of keeping these bases open.

Bases around the world <img alt=”Bases around the world” src=”https://cdn1.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/fpX0rjfWI-DqKzmOG-ucSxWV8xo=/cdn0.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/3700156/Screen_Shot_2015-05-15_at_12.16.31_PM.0.png”>

Bases around the world. (Why the majority are in Europe?)

The word “base” is a broad term that captures all sorts of military posts, stations, camps, forts, etc. around the globe.

The Pentagon specifics that a “base site” is any geographic location that is “owned by or leased to, or otherwise possessed” by the military.

Most of these bases cropped up after World War II when the US took position as the global leader and peacekeeper in and around Japan and Germany.

The Korean and Cold Wars sped up the expansion of US military infrastructure to other countries.

Containing Soviet communism led the US to set up posts all over the globe to ensure a geopolitical foothold in places that were vulnerable to Soviet influence — which basically meant everywhere.

US military around the globe <img alt=”US military around the globe” src=”https://cdn0.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/j7nORz0Uqnc4sYY-_FV3-KVJueo=/cdn0.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/3699532/486246703.0.jpg”>

Troops in Poland. (Sean Gallup/Getty)

Even though Japan, Germany, and Korea are now American allies and stable democracies, thousands of troops and many bases still remain in these countries.

Even though the Cold War is over, much of the military infrastructure built up in response to that era remains operational.

American taxpayers are in charge of the bill for keeping these bases running.

This estimated $100 billion is pumped out of our economy to the location of these bases. It’s a massive military system that ensures US influence in every corner of the planet, and given the uncontested nature of this widespread strategy, there isn’t likely to be any change soon.

Sixth Great Extinction? And the human? Could he survive?

Apparently, in the last half a billion years, earth witnessed 5 extinction of its species due to natural calamities.

This current extinction process is mainly due to the human species.

There are very few extinctions that we know about in the last 100 years that would have taken place without human activity.

I have never heard anyone argue, “oh extinction rates, that’s just a natural thing that would have happened with or without humans.” It’s just pretty much impossible to argue that.

The current extinction rate could be more than 100 times higher than normal—and that’s only taking into account the kinds of animals we know the most about.

Earth’s oceans and forests host an untold number of species, many of which will probably disappear before we even get to know them

The new study that’s generated so much conversation estimates that as many as three-quarters of animal species could be extinct within several human lifetimes, which sounds incredibly alarming

What is clear, and what is beyond dispute, is that we are living in a time of  very elevated extinction rates, on the order that you would see in a mass extinction, though a mass extinction might take many thousands of years to play out.

Island populations are very vulnerable to extinctions for a couple of reasons.

1. They tend to have been isolated. One of the things we’re doing is removing the barriers that used to keep island species isolated. New Zealand had no terrestrial mammals. Species that had evolved in the absence of such predators were incredibly vulnerable. A staggering number of bird species have already been lost on New Zealand, and a lot of those that remain are in deep trouble.

2. We brought in invasive species. So, places that have been isolated for a long time are very vulnerable. Species that have a very restricted range, that exist only in one spot in the world, those tend to be extremely vulnerable. They have nowhere to go and if their habitat is destroyed, say, then they’re gone.

We are now changing the climate, very rapidly, by geological standards.

We are changing the chemistry of all the oceans.

We are changing the surface of the planet.

We cut down forests,

we plant mono-culture agriculture, which is not good for a lot of species.

We’re overfishing. The list goes on and on.

We dump nitrogen on fields in the Midwest and the fertilizer runs down the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico, and that causes these dead zones.

The sort of fundamental question is, can 9 billion people —live on this planet with all of the species that are now still around?

Or are we on a collision course, in part because we consume a lot of resources that other creatures also would like to consume? That’s a question I can’t answer.

If you give vertebrate species (and we are another vertebrate species) an average lifetime of a million years, and you say humans are 200,000 years into their million years, and you precipitate a mass extinction—even laying aside the question of whether humans will be the victim of their own mass extinction—you can’t expect that same species to be around by the time the planet has recovered.

There are two questions that arise:

One is, OK, just because we’ve survived the loss of X number of species, can we keep going down the same trajectory, or do we eventually imperil the systems that keep people alive?

That’s a very big and incredibly serious question.

Second, even if we can survive, is that the world you want to live in? Is that the world you want all future generations of humans to live in?

That’s a different question. But they’re both extremely serious. I would say they really couldn’t be more serious

Nadia Drake, published a conversation with Elizabeth Kolbert in National Geographic , June 23, 2015

Note: I believe that, unless the atmosphere is Not highly toxic, beside the insects and rodents, two species could survive:

1. The owl who can hear a pregnant mice one meter under the snow and 300 meters away and has incredible eyesight at night (100 times that of human) and can sneak on victims listlessly .

2. The hyena who can crush and eat bones and is an excellent hunter individually and as a team.

Species are disappearing at an alarming rate, a new study finds. Author Elizabeth Kolbert says that raises questions about our survival.
news.nationalgeographic.com

Global police use of force standards: All US states failed the standards

Every state in the US fails to comply with international standards on the lethal use of force by law enforcement officers, according to a report by Amnesty International USA.

The report says 13 US states fall beneath even lower legal standards enshrined in US constitutional law and that nine states currently have no laws at all to deal with the issue.

The stinging review comes amid a national debate over police violence and widespread protest following the high-profile deaths of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; 43-year-old Eric Garner in New York; 50-year-old Walter Scott in South Carolina; and 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore – all unarmed black men killed by police within the past 11 months.

Amnesty USA’s executive director, Steven Hawkins, told the Guardian the findings represented a “shocking lack of fundamental respect for the sanctity of human life”.

“While law enforcement in the United States is given the authority to use lethal force, there is no equal obligation to respect and preserve human life. It’s shocking that while we give law enforcement this extraordinary power, so many states either have no regulation on their books or nothing that complies with international standards,” Hawkins said.

The analysis, which Hawkins said he believed was the first of its kind, compared state statutes on law enforcement’s use of lethal force with international legislation, including the enshrinement of the right to life, as well as United Nations principles limiting lethal use of force to “unavoidable” instances “in order to protect life” after “less extreme means” have failed. Further UN guidelines state that officers should attempt to identify themselves and give warning of intent to use lethal force.

Amnesty found that in all 50 states and Washington DC, written statutes were too broad to fit these international standards, concluding: “None of the laws establish the requirement that lethal force may only be used as a last resort with non-violent means and less harmful means to be tried first. The vast majority of laws do not require officers to give a warning of their intent to use firearms.”

The report arrived just weeks after the recommendations of Barack Obama’s police taskforce were made public and his executive actions on police reform criticized for not going far enough to curtail police violence.

The presidential commission stated that “not only should there be policies for deadly and non-deadly uses of force”, but that a “clearly stated ‘sanctity of life’ philosophy must also be in the forefront of every officer’s mind”.

The Amnesty review found that only 8 states require a verbal warning to be given before an officer engages in lethal force. In 9 states, law enforcement officers are legally allowed to use lethal force during riot.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, the use of force statute mandates that deadly force is justifiable if it is “necessary to suppress a riot or mutiny after the rioters or mutineers have been ordered to disperse”.

Further, Amnesty found that in 20 states it is legally permissible for law enforcement officers to employ lethal force against an individual attempting to escape prison or jail, even if they pose no threat.

In Mississippi, for instance, law declares “the killing of a human being … justifiable … [w]hen necessarily committed by public officers, or those acting by their command in their aid and assistance, in retaking any felon who has been rescued or has escaped”.

Amnesty’s report also charges that the laws on lethal force in 13 states do not even meet the less stringent constitutional standard set by the 1985 US supreme court case Tennessee v Garner. The case was centered on the death of an unarmed black 15-year-old, Edward Garner, a suspect in a home burglary. He was shot in the back of the head as he fled by officers acting under a Tennessee state statute which permitted “use all the necessary means” to make an arrest of a fleeing subject.

The 6-3 majority decision declared that police may not use deadly force to prevent a suspect from escaping unless “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others”.

The states whose laws do not meet this constitutional standard, according to Amnesty, tend to include permissive or vague language around the use of force.

North Dakota’s statute, for example, permits deadly force against “an individual who has committed or attempted to commit a felony involving violence”, without defining the level of violence that might warrant deadly force.

Amnesty identifies 9 states – Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming – alongside Washington DC where no law enforcement officer lethal force statutes exist.

“Those states can of course argue that they follow common law or supreme court standards, but is that good enough?” Hawkins said. “Certainly we would expect that international human rights standards are what should govern and our fear is that, unless these are clearly quantified, a citizen in any state can’t look at what the law is. That’s critically important to ensuring accountability.”

Amnesty’s report contends that the international standards laid out in the UN basic principles dictate all fatal incidents involving law enforcement officials should be mandatorily reported and well as impartially investigated.

The federal government does not collect a comprehensive record of people killed by police forces throughout the US. Instead, the FBI runs a voluntary program where law enforcement can choose to submit a number of “justifiable homicides” each year.

A Guardian investigation into deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers in the US has so far documented 515 people killed by police this year.

The statistics reveal that black people are more than twice as likely as white people to be unarmed during fatal encounters with police, and show that black Americans are killed by police at more than twice the rate as white Americans.

The introduction of mandatory reporting to federal government for all deaths at the hands of law enforcement is a central recommendation of the Amnesty report.

The report also suggests taking action at all levels of government, making recommendations to the president, Congress and the US justice department, along with state legislatures and individual law enforcement departments.

Amnesty suggests that laws be brought into compliance with international standards at every level, and that the justice department oversee a national commission “to examine and produce recommendations on policing issues, including a nationwide review of police use of lethal force laws … as well as a thorough review and reform of oversight and accountability mechanisms”.

Hawkins told the Guardian he expected some resistance to the recommendations from police unions and other agencies but added his hope that “with so much attention on law enforcement and its use of lethal force within the US, in the next legislative session this report will produce some energy for change”.

Amnesty International report describes ‘shocking lack of fundamental respect for the sanctity of human life’ as nine states have no laws to deal with police force
theguardian.com|By Oliver Laughland

Making hard choices

We do it frequently for simple hard choices, like deciding what to have for breakfast. A healthier or a tastier breakfast?

Think of a harder choice you’ll face in the near future.

Time to write your own life story: Create your own reasons for any hard choice

It might be between two careers — artist and accountant — or places to live — the city or the country — or even between two people to marry — you could marry Betty or you could marry Lolita.

Or it might be a choice about whether to have children, to have an ailing parent move in with you, to raise your child in a religion that your partner lives by but leaves you cold.

Or whether to donate your life savings to charity.

Chances are, the hard choice you thought of was something big, something momentous, something that matters to you. Hard choices seem to be occasions for agonizing, hand-wringing, the gnashing of teeth.

But I think we’ve misunderstood hard choices and the role they play in our lives. Understanding hard choices uncovers a hidden power each of us possesses.

1:05 What makes a choice hard is the way the alternatives relate.

In any easy choice, one alternative is better than the other. In a hard choice, one alternative is better in some ways, the other alternative is better in other ways, and neither is better than the other overall.

You agonize over whether to stay in your current job in the city or uproot your life for more challenging work in the country because staying is better in some ways, moving is better in others, and neither is better than the other overall.

1:40 We shouldn’t think that all hard choices are big. Let’s say you’re deciding what to have for breakfast. You could have high fiber bran cereal or a chocolate donut. Suppose what matters in the choice is tastiness and healthfulness. The cereal is better for you, the donut tastes way better, but neither is better than the other overall, a hard choice.

Realizing that small choices can also be hard may make big hard choices seem less intractable. After all, we manage to figure out what to have for breakfast, so maybe we can figure out whether to stay in the city or uproot for the new job in the country.

2:22 We also shouldn’t think that hard choices are hard because we are stupid.

When I graduated from college, I couldn’t decide between two careers, philosophy and law. I really loved philosophy. There are amazing things you can learn as a philosopher, and all from the comfort of an armchair.

But I came from a modest immigrant family where my idea of luxury was having a pork tongue and jelly sandwich in my school lunchbox, so the thought of spending my whole life sitting around in armchairs just thinking, well, that struck me as the height of extravagance and frivolity.

So I got out my yellow pad, I drew a line down the middle, and I tried my best to think of the reasons for and against each alternative. I remember thinking to myself, if only I knew what my life in each career would be like. If only God or Netflix would send me a DVD of my two possible future careers, I’d be set.

I’d compare them side by side, I’d see that one was better, and the choice would be easy.

3:34 But I got no DVD, and because I couldn’t figure out which was better, I did what many of us do in hard choices: I took the safest option.

Fear of being an unemployed philosopher led me to become a lawyer, and as I discovered, lawyering didn’t quite fit. It wasn’t who I was.

So now I’m a philosopher, and I study hard choices, and I can tell you that fear of the unknown, while a common motivational default in dealing with hard choices, rests on a misconception of them.

It’s a mistake to think that in hard choices, one alternative really is better than the other, but we’re too stupid to know which, and since we don’t know which, we might as well take the least risky option. Even taking two alternatives side by side with full information, a choice can still be hard.

Hard choices are hard Not because of us or our ignorance; they’re hard because there is no best option.

4:39 Now, if there’s no best option, if the scales don’t tip in favor of one alternative over another, then surely the alternatives must be equally good.

So maybe the right thing to say in hard choices is that they’re between equally good options. But that can’t be right.

If alternatives are equally good, you should just flip a coin between them, and it seems a mistake to think, here’s how you should decide between careers, places to live, people to marry: Flip a coin.

5:09 There’s another reason for thinking that hard choices aren’t choices between equally good options. Suppose you have a choice between two jobs: you could be an investment banker or a graphic artist.

There are a variety of things that matter in such a choice, like the excitement of the work, achieving financial security, having time to raise a family, and so on. Maybe the artist’s career puts you on the cutting edge of new forms of pictorial expression. Maybe the banking career puts you on the cutting edge of new forms of financial manipulation.

Imagine the two jobs however you like so that neither is better than the other.

5:56 Now suppose we improve one of them a bit. Suppose the bank, wooing you, adds 500 dollars a month to your salary. Does the extra money now make the banking job better than the artist one? Not necessarily.

A higher salary makes the banking job better than it was before, but it might not be enough to make being a banker better than being an artist. But if an improvement in one of the jobs doesn’t make it better than the other, then the two original jobs could not have been equally good.

If you start with two things that are equally good, and you improve one of them, it now must be better than the other. That’s not the case with options in hard choices.

Now we’ve got a puzzle. We’ve got two jobs. Neither is better than the other, nor are they equally good. So how are we supposed to choose? Something seems to have gone wrong here.

Maybe the choice itself is problematic and comparison is impossible. But that can’t be right. It’s not like we’re trying to choose between two things that can’t be compared. We’re weighing the merits of two jobs, after all, not the merits of the number nine and a plate of fried eggs.

A comparison of the overall merits of two jobs is something we can make, and one we often do make.

7:28 I think the puzzle arises because of an unreflective assumption we make about value.

We unwittingly assume that values like justice, beauty, kindness, are akin to scientific quantities, like length, mass and weight. Take any comparative question not involving value, such as which of two suitcases is heavier. There are only three possibilities. The weight of one is greater, lesser or equal to the weight of the other.

Properties like weight can be represented by real numbers — one, two, three and so on — and there are only three possible comparisons between any two real numbers. One number is greater, lesser, or equal to the other. Not so with values.

As post-Enlightenment creatures, we tend to assume that scientific thinking holds the key to everything of importance in our world, but the world of value is different from the world of science.

The stuff of the one world can be quantified by real numbers. The stuff of the other world can’t. We shouldn’t assume that the world of is, of lengths and weights, has the same structure as the world of ought, of what we should do.

8:51 So if what matters to us — a child’s delight, the love you have for your partner — can’t be represented by real numbers, then there’s no reason to believe that in choice, there are only three possibilities — that one alternative is better, worse or equal to the other.

We need to introduce a new, fourth relation beyond being better, worse or equal, that describes what’s going on in hard choices. I like to say that the alternatives are “on a par.”

When alternatives are on a par, it may matter very much which you choose, but one alternative isn’t better than the other. Rather, the alternatives are in the same neighborhood of value, in the same league of value, while at the same time being very different in kind of value. That’s why the choice is hard.

9:48 Understanding hard choices in this way uncovers something about ourselves we didn’t know. Each of us has the power to create reasons. Imagine a world in which every choice you face is an easy choice, that is, there’s always a best alternative. If there’s a best alternative, then that’s the one you should choose, because part of being rational is doing the better thing rather than the worse thing, choosing what you have most reason to choose.

In such a world, we’d have most reason to wear black socks instead of pink socks, to eat cereal instead of donuts, to live in the city rather than the country, to marry Betty instead of Lolita. A world full of only easy choices would enslave us to reasons.

10:38 When you think about it, it’s nuts to believe that the reasons given to you dictated that you had most reason to pursue the exact hobbies you do, to live in the exact house you do, to work at the exact job you do.

Instead, you faced alternatives that were on a par — hard choices — and you made reasons for yourself to choose that hobby, that house and that job. When alternatives are on a par, the reasons given to us, the ones that determine whether we’re making a mistake, are silent as to what to do.

It’s here, in the space of hard choices, that we get to exercise our normative power, the power to create reasons for yourself, to make yourself into the kind of person for whom country living is preferable to the urban life.

11:43 When we choose between options that are on a par, we can do something really rather remarkable. We can put our very selves behind an option. Here’s where I stand. Here’s who I am. I am for banking. I am for chocolate donuts.

This response in hard choices is a rational response, but it’s not dictated by reasons given to us. Rather, it’s supported by reasons created by us. When we create reasons for ourselves to become this kind of person rather than that, we wholeheartedly become the people that we are. You might say that we become the authors of our own lives.

12:33 So when we face hard choices, we shouldn’t beat our head against a wall trying to figure out which alternative is better. There is no best alternative. Instead of looking for reasons out there, we should be looking for reasons in here: Who am I to be?

You might decide to be a pink sock-wearing, cereal-loving, country-living banker, and I might decide to be a black sock-wearing, urban, donut-loving artist. What we do in hard choices is very much up to each of us.

People who don’t exercise their normative powers in hard choices are drifters. We all know people like that. I drifted into being a lawyer. I didn’t put my agency behind lawyering. I wasn’t for lawyering.

Drifters allow the world to write the story of their lives. They let mechanisms of reward and punishment — pats on the head, fear, the easiness of an option — to determine what they do.

So the lesson of hard choices: reflect on what you can put your agency behind, on what you can be for, and through hard choices, become that person.

13:57 Far from being sources of agony and dread, hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the human condition, that the reasons that govern our choices as correct or incorrect sometimes run out, and it is here, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are. And that’s why hard choices are not a curse but a godsend.

Patsy Z shared this link

“It’s a mistake to think that in hard choices, one alternative really is better than the other.”

Helpful advice for making tough decisions a little easier.
t.ted.com|By Ruth Chang

A kindergarten within a retirement home?

Ils ont mis une école maternelle dans une maison de retraite…

Et ça a changé leur vie !

Par Nathan Weber June 22, 2015

Il faut bien dire ce qui est : les maisons de retraite ne sont pas toujours les endroits les plus joyeux du monde. Bien souvent, malheureusement, les anciens doivent finir leur vie dans des endroits ternes et tristes, où ils semblent relégués dans l’attente de leur décès prochain.

 

Heureusement, ce n’est pas toujours ainsi ! En effet, les personnes âgées peuvent facilement maintenir leur joie de vivre, du moment qu’ils reçoivent des visites, que l’on va vers eux et qu’on leur prête l’attention qu’ils méritent.

Au Providence Mount St. Vincent, à Seattle, deux générations que plus d’un demi-siècle sépare se côtoient au quotidien. En effet, cette maison de retraite fait également office d’école maternelle !

 

Le résultat ? Un mélange absolument génial, ou les enfants et personnes âgées interagissent au quotidien, s’apportant mutuellement certains bénéfices que rien ni personne d’autre ne pourrait apporter !

 

Un concept absolument génial, qui gagnerait à être répandu de partout dans le monde ! C’est tellement simple et pourtant l’échange est extrêmement enrichissant, que ce soit pour ceux qui commencent à peine la grande aventure que sera leur vie, ou pour ceux qui la terminent.

Ainsi, les enfants apprennent le respect aux personnes âgées, tout en intégrant une leçon d’une valeur inestimable dès les premiers balbutiements de leur existence : la vie est courte, et il faut profiter des instants de bonheur qu’elle nous offre chaque jour !

 

Cette vidéo est une bande-annonce pour un projet intitulé « Present perfect » (présent parfait) qui montre ce que c’est que de grandir et de vieillir dans la société actuelle.

 

Une campagne sur Kickstarter est en cours pour financer ce film, et à l’heure où nous écrivons ces lignes, l’objectif a déjà été doublé ! 

Rita Zoghbi  and Maricris Devrel shared this link
.
Il faut bien dire ce qui est : les maisons de retraite ne sont pas toujours les endroits les plus joyeux du mo…
demotivateur.fr

Inauguration speech on Lebanese

If I were to deliver a speech to the Lebanese people, here’s what I would dare say:

Every Lebanese knows, and absolutely, that we never had a viable constitution meant to be applied and respected.

Every Lebanese knows that we never had a viable government, executive or representative parliament, meant to give the common people any relief from life hardship or to satisfy the basic human rights.

Every Lebanese knows, and absolutely, that we lack civil institutions. The civil servants main focus is to receive their monthly salary and as much as they can get in bribes, and wait for their retirement indemnity.

Every Lebanese knows that institutions were created to tax the people, get direct money in order to swell the pockets of the feudal leaders, the warlords and the clerics of the 18 officially  recognized religious sects

Everyone knows that we failed to build a nation and Not because:

First, we are too tiny to confidently claim an independent and autonomous entity

Second, we lack natural resources to stand on our feet without external support or

3. We are surrounded by States (Syria and Israel/Palestine) that do not take us seriously as a legitimate and viable State

We failed to construct a nation since 1943 simply because:

1. Nothing materialized to offer any sustainable ground that give us the impression that we belong to a State and the citizens enjoy the dignity and full rights in a serious State that consider its primary job is responsibility to the citizens

2. We plainly lack the necessary behaviour that provide a sense of belonging to a nation

3. No law or institution was sustained long enough to show any direction to modernity and determination for the longer terms

If I were in any position of power:

1. I will focus on few practical achievements that might give us a sense of potential feeling of belonging to a responsive State

2. Create an environment of determination to make us feel we deserve a State

3. When visiting public institutions, we are no longer shocked by their state of decrepitude: Dirty walls, cracked stairs, ancient rooms, civil servants sitting on dilapidated chairs and desks, and the citizens unable to locate any decent WC or toilets. You will be surprised that a functional WC is always locked and reserved for the civil servants. Whatever WC available is not functioning and stinks like hell.

4. The citizens should have the right to vote any place they are located, and not necessarily in their hometown

5. I will pay the public teachers every month, and not Once a year or every 6 months (ma3 terbi7 jmeeleh)

The list of simple practical achievement are legion to start acting on them.

We don’t need to dwell in our discussions on this abstract notion of a Nation that divides our communities.

We all know by now that we cannot constitute a nation but we love to discuss this concept simply because it is an excellent excuse to keep our communities further divided and distant

What we need is to feel and observe that we have a modern State, determined to behave and act as a State to serve all its citizens with respect and responsibility.

Since time immemorial, when we lived within dozens of City-States,  Unity was a concept totally aberrant to us.

Ironically, we had to wait for the Hezbollah movement to put Lebanon back on the map. All these foreign political dignitaries are flocking personally  back to Lebanon simply  because they have to deal directly with Hezbollah.

Against all odds and single handedly, the Hezbollah resistance forced Israel occupiers to vacate Lebanese lands without preconditions in May 24, 2000.

Against all odds and single handedly, Hezbollah resistance withstood the onslaught of Israel preemptive war in 2006 and for an entire month. It forced Israel to beg the US to reach any kinds of ceasefire.

Against all odds and single handedly, Hezbollah resistance pushed back the extremist Nusra and ISIS forces, located in Syria and within us,  from the borders of Lebanon. Hezbollah captured key cities and towns near our borders and recaptured the Eastern mountain chains in the Kalamoun

Against all odds and single handedly, Hezbollah extended to the Lebanese a relative sense of security, dignity and pride and has the potential to restitute to us a responsive government.

Give us dignity and receive civic society

 

adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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