More suspected IS members leave extremists’ holdout in Syria
Thursday, March 7
BAGHOUZ, Syria (AP) — Scores of suspected IS members, including foreign fighters, are being screened and searched for concealed weapons and explosives after coming out of the last pocket of territory held by the Islamic State group in Syria.
The men, their faces covered, were divided into three groups — Syrians, Iraqis and those of other nationalities. Their names were taken and they were fingerprinted on Thursday outside the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz, where the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by U.S. troops, have been battling the militants since September.
Hundreds have left this week the tiny stretch of land controlled by IS along the eastern banks of the Euphrates River in Deir el-Zour province.
There were no signs of combat and calm prevailed for a fourth day to allow for evacuations.
New Russian bill introduces punishment for insulting state
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian lawmakers passed legislation Thursday that imposes restrictions on online media and criminalizes anyone who insults the state.
The bill introduces fines for publishing materials showing disrespect to the state, its symbols and government organs. Repeat offenders could face a 15-day jail sentence.
The Kremlin-controlled lower house, the State Duma, approved the bill in the final, third reading. It also endorsed a separate bill that will block anyone publishing “fake news” online, that is perceived to threaten public health and security.
The bills are expected to quickly pass in the upper house before President Vladimir Putin signs them into laws.
Critics see the legislation as part of Kremlin efforts to stifle criticism and tighten control.
During Thursday’s debates, Communist lawmaker Alexei Kurinnyi warned that the authorities could use the “fake news” bill to punish critics.
Valery Gartung of the Just Russia faction also criticized the legislation, saying its vagueness will open the way for selective interpretation.
The ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky spoke about the need to “fight lies that lead to revolutions and wars,” but added that his faction wouldn’t support what he described as insufficiently prepared legislation.
Communists, the Just Russia and Zhirinovsky’s faction vote along with the Kremlin wishes on key policy issues, so their criticism of the legislation highlights a degree of division.
The bill bans the spread of “unreliable socially-important information” that could “endanger lives and public health, raise the threat of massive violation of public security and order or impede functioning of transport and social infrastructure, energy and communication facilities and banks.”
The bill gives those who publish such information a day to correct or remove it. If they fail to do so, prosecutors will move to block them.
Members of the main Kremlin faction, the United Russia, who drafted the new legislation, argued that they were needed to protect the state.
“There is no talk about censorship,” said Sergei Boyarsky, a deputy head of the Duma’s committee for information policies. “It doesn’t ban criticism of officials or expression of views and opinions that differ from the official line.”
Boyarsky also charged that the bill that criminalizes insulting the state is aimed to protect “society as a whole,” not individual officials or government agencies.
He argued that the bill is needed to block information that could threaten public safety, cause panic and provoke bank runs.
RE-INHABITING PLANET EARTH
By Robert C. Koehler
“I believe that for a moment I thought the explosion might set fire to the atmosphere and thus finish the Earth, even though I knew that this was not possible.”
These words of Manhattan Project physicist Emilio Segre, quoted by Richard Rhodes in his book The Making of the Atomic Bomb, refer to the Trinity blast on July 16, 1945, at Alamogordo, N.M., the first atomic explosion in history and, so it appears, a turning point for all life on this planet.
The atmosphere didn’t catch fire at 5:30 that morning, but Segre’s words remain relevant, sort of like radioactive fallout. They encapsulate what may be history’s ultimate moment of human arrogance: the belief in a sense of separateness from and superiority to nature so thorough that we have, with our monstrous intelligence, the ability and therefore the right to play Bad God and make the whole planet go poof.
Turns out the Trinity test set into motion something even more profound than the nuclear era. The bomb didn’t just “defeat” Japan and define the Cold War, with its suicidal nuclear arms race. It is also, at least symbolically, marks the beginning of what has come to be known as the Anthropocene: an era of profound climate and “Earth system” destabilization caused by human activity and therefore, like it or not, establishing humans as co-equal participants in activity of the natural world.
There’s more to this “co-equal” status than nuclear weapons, of course. They may be the tip of our arrogance, but we’ve been exploiting and rearranging the planet for nearly 12,000 years, since the beginning of the era we are now leaving, the Holocene, an era of climate stability in which human civilization and all written history emerged. From the development of agriculture to the industrial revolution – the plundering of the Earth for oil and coal, the spewing of infinitesimal plastic nurdles across the planet, the creation of continent-sized trash mounds afloat in the oceans, the replacement of biodiversity with monoculture, the poisoning of the air and water and, yes, nuclear testing and the spread of radioactive fallout – humanity, or at least a small portion of it, has exercised an intelligence with a serious moral void.
And now the chickens are coming home to roost. Or as David Korten put it: “Humans might be the first species to knowingly choose self-extinction.”
What’s crucial about all this goes well beyond the dangers of climate change and the need for techno-fixes to our socioeconomic structures. History professor Julia Adeney Thomas puts it this way: “The Anthropocene’s interrelated systematicity presents not a problem, but a multidimensional predicament. A problem might be solved, often with a single technological tool produced by experts in a single field, but a predicament presents a challenging condition requiring resources and ideas of many kinds. We don’t solve predicaments; instead, we navigate through them.”
She adds: “… the hardest challenges will be about how to alter our political and economic systems.”
These aren’t just technical problems for “experts” to solve while the rest of look on (or go shopping). What’s emerging from all this for me is that humanity has to evolve for its own survival, and evolution is going to take all of us – or at least all of us who can think beyond the structures of thought in which we grew up, in which we came of age. The first premise for navigating the Anthropocene may be this: We’re all in it together.
Simple as this sounds, the implications of such a statement, if it is true, begin mushrooming into unfathomable complexity, especially when “all” refers not simply to all 7.4 billion human beings out there but all of life: the biosphere, the planet. We have to rethink who we are in a way that has, quite likely, never before happened.
“In the Anthropocene the old simplicities are gone,” writes Mark Garavan. “We are no longer human subjects acting upon an objective nature ‘outside’ us. Nature and human are now bound together. Free nature is over. Free humanity is over. They are relics of the Holocene. In our new age, Earth and Human are entangled irrevocably together. Welcome to the era of Earth-bound responsibility! The assumptions, the myths, the illusions of the Holocene no longer apply.”
And any institution founded on such myths and illusions – that the planet is ours to exploit, that some people matter more than others, that national borders are real, that dehumanizing and killing one another (a little activity called war) keeps us safe, that money equals God – cannot and will not survive the Anthropocene, and the “solutions” that emerge from such institutions, e.g., solving the climate crisis, are rooted in failure. “The challenge,” says Garavan, “is to re-think and re-inhabit our planet.”
That is to say, we have to start over.
And I think that’s what’s happening. New values are percolating. So are old values – the values human beings once embraced as they claimed the right to occupy Planet Earth. These values include interdependence and cooperation, and profound reverence for the planet. Rupert Ross, in his book Returning to the Teachings, points out, for instance: “The Lakotah had no language for insulting other orders of existence: “pest … waste … weed.”
Indigenous understanding is not “primitive.” It includes cooperation and compassion in its grasp of how things work, of what it means to live within the circle of life. The indigenous peoples of the planet have remained its protectors.
As Jade Begay and Ayşe Gürsöz point out at EcoWatch: “Even the seemingly groundbreaking Paris agreement neither includes human rights in its text nor acknowledges Indigenous rights — even though lands and waters stewarded by Indigenous communities make up 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. What we need is for climate policy and the overall climate movement to address problems of inequality, because climate change is just as much a social issue as it is an environmental issue.”
In other words, biodiversity and social diversity are both precious. Knowing this means re-inhabiting the planet, not setting it on fire.
Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is available. Contact him at email@example.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.
Brazil and Venezuela clash over migrants, humanitarian aid and closed borders
March 7, 2019
Robert Muggah, Associate Lecturer, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio)
Adriana Abdenur, Associate researcher, Center for Political Strategic Studies, Brazilian Naval War College
Disclosure statement: As co-founder of the Igarapé Institute and SecDev Group, Robert Muggah receives funding from a range a international foundations and bilateral partners. Supporters include the Luminate Foundation, Porticus, Claro, Open Society Foundations and the Canadian government. Robert Muggah is also a fellow at the Chicago Council for Global Affairs and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, affiliated with the World Economic Forum and is faculty at Singularity University.
Adriana Erthal Abdenur is a researcher at the Instituto Igarapé, a Brazilian research center. She also serves on the Committee for Development Policy of the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Venezuela’s borders are now dangerous flashpoints in a tense showdown between President Nicolas Maduro and Venezuela’s self-declared interim president, Juan Guaidó.
The United States, Colombia and Brazil – all supporters of Guaidó’s quest to unseat Maduro – have amassed hundreds of tons of medical and food supplies at Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil. Maduro, who condemns the humanitarian convoys as the pretext for a U.S.-led military invasion, refuses to allow the aid through.
The aid standoff grew deadly between Feb. 22 and 24. As Venezuelan opposition members protested the border blockade, Venezuelan security forces opened fire. As many as seven demonstrators were killed at the Colombian border and an estimated 25 demonstrators died near the Brazilian border.
Though he has quietly welcomed planes bearing 300 tons of humanitarian assistance from Russia, an ally, Maduro has now closed Venezuela’s land borders with Brazil and Colombia, and severed diplomatic ties with Colombia.
Relations between Venezuela and Brazil are deteriorating fast, too. As researchers of crime, violence and military conflict in Latin America we have watched with concern as Brazil’s president militarizes the country’s border in response to Venezuela’s crisis. The recent clashes over humanitarian aid have heightened the risk of conflict between these two South American countries.
Militarizing the border
Brazil’s president, the right-wing former military captain Jair Bolsonaro, is an admirer of U.S. President Donald Trump and a fierce critic of all leftist governments – including Venezuela’s.
Since Guaidó challenged the left-wing Maduro for the Venezuelan presidency in January, following a presidential election criticized domestically and internationally for irregularities, Bolsonaro has promised to do “everything” necessary to help Guaidó restore democracy.
In February, Bolsonaro received Guaidó – then on an impromptu diplomatic tour of Latin America – at the presidential palace in Brasília with all the pomp of a state visit.
Guaidó is not the only Venezuelan to arrive in Brazil recently.
Every day, thousands of Venezuelans pour into neighboring countries, fleeing hunger, poverty and scarcity. There are over 3.4 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants worldwide, according to the United Nations.
Colombia has received the brunt of the mass exodus, receiving over 1.1 million refugees and migrants. But an estimated 96,000 Venezuelans have also come to Brazil since 2017, most arriving on foot to the northern Brazilian border state of Roraima. Roughly 65,000 of those Venezuelan migrants have applied for asylum in Brazil.
To manage the influx, Brazil plans to double its already significant military presence at the Venezuelan border, where at least 3,200 soldiers were sent in 2018 to “guarantee law and order.”
Meanwhile, Venezuelan security forces in tanks patrol the border with Brazil to enforce Maduro’s Feb. 21 order that nothing – not aid, not migrants – crosses between the two countries.
The Brazilian Ministry of Defense is negotiating with the Venezuelan army to prevent further violence over humanitarian aid delivery and remove some heavy artillery from both sides of the border. And Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão, a four-star general, says Brazil rejects taking any “extreme measures” in Venezuela.
But the potential for a military confrontation feel very real.
Bolsonaro has dispatched planes with 22 tons of rice, powdered milk and medical kits to Roraima to help the roughly 5,200 Venezuelan refugees and migrants living in shelters and on the streets there.
Efforts by Venezuelan opposition supporters to bring some of that aid into Venezuelan territory have been forcefully rebuffed by Venezuelan security forces. They set up barricades, fired tear gas and targeted demonstrators.
The Brazilian military intelligence website Defesa Net reports that Venezuela has moved anti-aircraft missiles to the border, spurring open speculation in Brazil about how a war with its heavily militarized northern neighbor might play out.
Violence at the borders
Officially, Brazil rejects military intervention in Venezuela.
It is part of the Lima Group, a coalition of 14 Latin American governments and Canada that recommends a managed exit by Maduro to resolve Venezuela’s crisis. The group is pushing Maduro to relinquish his power and leave the country, allowing Guaidó to lead a transitional government and call new elections.
But Bolsonaro has made clear that he considers Maduro to be a dictator.
“At the end of the day, [Venezuelans] are citizens, our brothers, and they are going through serious difficulties under the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro,” he said in October.
During Brazil’s 2018 presidential campaign, Bolsonaro and his three sons – who are also politicians – traded Twitter insults with Maduro. Bolsonaro’s youngest son, a hot-headed 34-year-old congressman and Steve Bannon booster, even called for the assassination of the Venezuelan leader. He still publicly supports “removing” Maduro.
Maduro, for his part, has labeled Bolsonaro a fascist and the “Hitler of modern times.” He accuses both Bolsonaro and Vice President Mourão of being U.S. puppets.
Battles over humanitarian aid
Bolsonaro has toned down his belligerent rhetoric in recent days, focusing on the need for democracy and humanitarian aid in Venezuela.
This is likely at the urging of Vice President Mourão and other generals who hold cabinet positions in his government. Brazil’s military, it’s clear, wants to avoid a messy and protracted conflict with its northern neighbor.
Mourão has disputed claims that the U.S. is establishing a military base in Brazil, saying that under no circumstances would Brazil allow U.S. troops to enter Venezuela through Brazil.
He says the only possibility of conflict with Venezuela is if Brazil is attacked first.
Non-interventionism no longer
Brazil’s official rejection of President Maduro represents a dramatic break from tradition. Brazil has historically practiced a hands-off foreign policy.
Virtually every Brazilian government since the end of military dictatorship in 1985, both left and right, has espoused non-intervention and respect for the national sovereignty of its neighbors.
Members of Venezuela’s National Guard who defected to Brazil show their military IDs near the border in Pacaraima, Brazil, on Feb. 24, 2019. Hundreds of Venezuelan military servicemen have fled to Colombia and Brazil in the past month. Reuters/Ricardo Moraes
But Venezuela is an unprecedented challenge – a political, humanitarian, and migration crisis of a scale never before seen in Latin America.
All of South America hopes to avoid a civil war that could spill over into the region. As Bolsonaro is learning, humanitarian aid, migrants and political relations with Maduro must be handled with extreme caution.
The president’s influential youngest son doesn’t seem to have received the memo.
On Feb. 23, Eduardo Bolsonaro tweeted that Maduro will only be ousted “with gunshots.”
Matthew Miller, logged in via Facebook: “Mourão has disputed claims that the U.S. is establishing a military base in Brazil, saying that under no circumstances would Brazil allow U.S. troops to enter Venezuela through Brazil.”
Who would be dumb enough to invade from the bottom? There only one road up and it’s a damn long way and very, very exposed.
A prison program in Connecticut seeks to find out what happens when prisoners are treated as victims
March 7, 2019
Author: Miriam Gohara, Clinical Associate Professor of Law, Yale University
Disclosure statement: Miriam Gohara receives funding from the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund at Yale Law School.
Prisons are full of people who were once victims of violence and abuse.
As many as 75 percent of people who are in prison have experienced violence or childhood neglect, according to data from the Department of Justice.
Prisoners report past abuse at rates up to twice that of the general population. Youth who get caught up in the criminal justice system have experienced chronic trauma at rates triple those of youth in the general population.
A study of people who spent time in prison, conducted by sociologist Bruce Western, found that 42 percent had witnessed a violent death as children.
Advocates of criminal justice reform are beginning to catch up with what social scientists have shown for years: The correlation between being the victim of a crime and committing crime cannot be ignored in serious conversations about sending fewer people to prison.
However, the U.S. justice system focuses almost exclusively on punishing people who commit crimes. What if our justice systems treated victims of violence who harm others as also deserving of healing?
A pilot prison program in Connecticut entering its third year is beginning to answer that question. Connecticut modeled the program on a German prison for young people. I visited that German prison and two others last summer as part of research funded by Yale Law School.
Connecticut’s experiment with rehabilitation
In May 2018, I toured a prison in Cheshire, a suburb outside of New Haven, Connecticut. That’s where the Connecticut Department of Corrections is running a pilot program called T.R.U.E., which operates on the idea that acknowledging and healing trauma is essential to a successful post-prison life.
T.R.U.E. stands for truthfulness to oneself and others, respectfulness toward the community, understanding ourselves and what brought us here and elevating into success.
During my visit, I met several of the 21 “lifers,” prisoners who are serving decades long or life sentences and mentoring 52 younger prisoners. The younger prisoners are between the ages of 18 to 25, and have been convicted of serious crimes such as armed robbery and homicide. Mentors try to equip them with practical, social and emotional skills to earn a living and live law-abiding, productive lives when they are released.
I spoke in-depth with five participants to learn about their work.
Mentors counsel their mentees on confronting their pasts, including how their own histories of being victims of violence relate to their incarceration and how to consider the world from their victims’ perspectives.
Mentors have single cells with doors they can leave open, to encourage the young men they are counseling to drop by for conversations. The private cells are meant to provide the mentors with space for honest, one-on-one talks with the younger men.
T.R.U.E. participants told me that for the first time in their lives, they felt sufficiently safe to let their guard down enough to reflect and learn practical life skills like how to prepare a resume.
T.R.U.E. mentors and correctional officers who sign up to work in the unit receive training in how to talk with and counsel people who have survived violence, as many of the mentors themselves have. Mentors then design and teach a curriculum focused on rehabilitation and life skills, ranging from how to do laundry and manage a bank account to how to navigate conflict productively.
Through a simulated banking system the mentors developed, the mentees save mock currency and pay “rent” and “taxes.” They also study in philosophy, economics and English classes led by mentors or local college professors.
When conflicts among T.R.U.E. participants arise, they engage in conflict-resolution circles, where the disputing prisoners sit with other T.R.U.E. residents and engage in guided, structured conversation to de-escalate disagreement.
The German model
T.R.U.E. was founded in 2017 after Connecticut’s then-Department of Corrections Commissioner Scott Semple and then-Governor Dannel Malloy toured European prisons on a trip led by the nonprofit research organization, the Vera Institute of Justice. The Vera Institute’s mission is to improve justice systems to ensure fairness and promote safety.
Semple and Malloy were inspired to establish a prison unit that would focus on young adults, the population most likely to commit crimes and to be victims of crime.
T.R.U.E. is modeled on one of the German prisons the Connecticut delegation visited, in a town called Neustrelitz. I also visited this facility in July 2018.
At Neustrelitz, 19- to 25-year-olds convicted of serious and often violent crimes are provided with comprehensive therapy and vocational and life-skills training.
On my visit, the German correctional professionals I spoke with said the first thing they do when a prisoner enters is conduct a weeks long assessment of their social history, including any history of being a victim of violence or abuse. They then offer treatment and rehabilitation programs based on this detailed information.
My German hosts were puzzled when I asked whether they measure the success of their work by reduction in the number of prisoners who return to prison after their release.
They explained that their work arises out of an inherent duty to heal, train and teach every prisoner in their care, regardless of the severity of their convictions. They measure their success by delivering therapeutic, educational and vocational programs. The German correctional model is built on the principle that prisons owe training, education and therapy to the people in their custody.
This may seem counter intuitive in the U.S., where the success of justice programs is often measured by whether participants in the programs are re-arrested or return to prison. Can a new way of thinking about justice, such as what is embodied in the T.R.U.E. approach, work in the U.S. system?
Too few T.R.U.E. participants have been released to measure success by whether they will return to prison. However, data show that among a cohort of more than 3,200 Connecticut prisoners, those who participated in programs designed to reduce their risk of being re-arrested were 10 to 12 percent less likely to commit another crime than counterparts who had not participated, six and 12 months after their release. This is according to a report shared with me by the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management.
They also report that T.R.U.E. has had no violent incidents while the participants are in prison. This is remarkable when data show that 21 percent of prisoners are assaulted within a six-month period.
These data suggest that prison programs that provide a combination of counseling and educational and work opportunities reduce violence and the risk of returning to prison. The Department of Corrections is committed to the model indefinitely and has started a unit like T.R.U.E. in the state’s prison for women.
Building prison programs that heal all victims, including those who have injured others, is consistent with the recognition that people who commit crimes are often survivors of crime themselves.