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Why the Democratic Rust Belt in Northeastern Pennsylvania voted for Trump

The Weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), November 12-13, 2016 presented the latest in a series of articles on The Great Unraveling.   Formerly Democratic rust belt counties, devastated by economic and social decline that swung the electoral victory for President-elect Donald Trump, “The Places that Made Trump President.”  The WSJ characterized these areas as:

Rust Belt counties facing declines in manufacturing, shrinking populations, rising immigration and fraying social fabric moved heavily toward the Republican candidate and his message of national restoration

This latest in the WSJ series dealt with counties in the devastated hard coal and industrial areas of Northeastern Pennsylvania from Scranton south from the New York Line on I-81 across the Delaware River along the spine of the Poconos.   We knew the area well from stops on our journey south to Florida in Wilkes Barre, Hazelton and Saylorville, where former all of Islamist Turkish President Erdogan, Sheikh Fetulleh Gulen is ‘holed up’ in his compound.

We asked two cousins, former residents of the area, American ex-pat in Paris, France, noted European commentator and author Nidra Poller and lawyer activist, Debra Glazer in Irvine, California for their recollections of growing up in these Northeastern Pennsylvania rustbelt communities.

Nidra Poller

I had the privilege of experiencing the Great Depression! Though I was born in 1935, the Depression had never ended in Jessup, PA. They distributed very small apples to the schoolchildren (and I always prefer very small apples) and caned grapefruit. Those who came from affluent families brought their own sugar to sweeten the grapefruit.

We had so few material possessions… young people today couldn’t even imagine how we lived. And we had a store! I suppose we belonged to the middle class.

Our mother z”l (if blessed memory) made my clothes…turning my father’s worn out suits into itchy tweed and his shirts into blouses.

We’ll see what the dispossessed voters of 2016 think in 2019. Can a president, Trump or otherwise, undo the consequences of the entire postwar economic and social development of the US?

Debra Glazer

All through the 1970s and even into the 1980s, I would do much of my clothing; shoe and purse shopping at the various outlets in town (remember Leslie Fay, London Fog, Suburban Casuals, Old Mill, David Crystal Izod, and Rex Shoes?). My mother and I (and my cousins) spent hours going from place to place, stretching from Dickson City, Scranton, and down to Wilkes-Barre. These were real no-frills outlets, often times situated within the factory walls, with merchandise that had mostly tiny imperfections or that were a season old. All those sewing and piece goods jobs disappeared to China and elsewhere.

Then Scranton launched into the telemarketing craze. Many of those annoying dinner-time calls originated from workers sitting in the old, converted Globe, Scranton Dry Goods, or Samters downtown department stores, until the FCC intervened (thankfully) with the do-not-call lists.

When I was a young girl, Scranton had over 100,000 populations, with a strong and large Jewish community, a spanking JCC and many thriving synagogues.  Today, it’s mostly the Orthodox Jewish community that is holding its own, while the other Jewish denominations in town suffer from an aging membership. Almost all of my Jewish high school friends are no longer in Scranton, as there was little for those of us without family businesses to come back to after college.  The overall population dwindled, the poorly educated or blue-collar workers stayed behind, city services crumbled, bankruptcy loomed from time to time, and corruption reigned in NE PA.  Although Scranton boasts several decent universities (the Jesuit University of Scranton and the Catholic Marywood College), those institutions expanded their campuses while causing the erosion of the property tax base. It was really sad for me to go back home when I would visit my aging parents. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Avoca Airport is a gorgeous building, built with loads of federal funds, but almost no airlines service there and if they do, flights are often canceled at the last minute. If one really needs to get somewhere, one is usually forced to drive to Newark, Philadelphia, NY, or even Allentown airports.

So yes, I can see that those folks I grew up with were the backbone of the Trump victory, maybe less so in Scranton because of the Hillary and Biden connections, but still much more than expected in this Democratic stronghold.

Here are selections from the latest WSJ article on what motivated the residents of the rust belt counties in Northeastern Pennsylvania to vote for President-elect Donald Trump in 2016:

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Tamika Shupp twice voted for Barack Obama as the candidate best equipped to shake up Washington. This year she chose Donald Trump for the same reason.

“Obama tried to do well, and it didn’t turn out how we thought,” said Ms. Shupp as she prepared Polish dumplings at Mom & Pop’s Pierogis in this Rust Belt city. Mr. Trump should do better, she figures, by cracking down on illegal immigration and upholding American values like hard work.

Mr. Trump “is going to be another Obama,” said the 43-year-old Ms. Shupp. She considers both men to be agents of change. As for the crude remarks Mr. Trump made during the campaign, especially concerning women, Ms. Shupp said she dismissed them as bragging and “shoptalk,” and she didn’t believe the women who accused him of sexual assault.

[…]

Foreign competition largely wiped out the area’s dress and shoe industries. Many in the county bitterly remember pencil maker Eberhard Faber moving a plant to Mexico in the mid-1980s and other manufacturers closing factories. A plan in the mid-2000s to capitalize on computer-network technology and turn the county into “Wall Street West” proved a bust after few financial firms moved back-office processing to the area. The Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce is hatching a new plan to attract businesses by involving the local colleges in recruitment efforts, but the program is too new to have much effect so far.

The unemployment rate in Luzerne County, now 6.2%, has generally exceeded the national average since 2000, and manufacturing employment in the county is down by around one-third since 2000. Many of the jobs that remain are low-wage service ones in local hospitals, colleges, chain restaurants and stores. Median income, after accounting for inflation, has been flat in Luzerne County since 2000.

Young people are leaving the region in search of jobs elsewhere, leaving an older, more conservative group of voters. In Luzerne, the population has remained steady since 2000, at about 320,000, but the number of people age 25 to 44 fell by about 10,000, according to Moody’sAnalytics.

The weak economy has, over the decades, contributed to a tattering of the county’s social fabric. Church attendance is down since 2000, opioid addiction is up, and civic organizations like the Rotary Club and the Masons have trouble recruiting young members, say local residents. Of the four Evangelical Lutheran churches in Wilkes-Barre in 2000, says Rev. Peter Kuritz of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, one closed and two other don’t have full-time pastors.

Meanwhile, the county’s Hispanic population has climbed nearly 10-fold since 2000, to 31,000, adding a layer of ethnic tension to a place where 84% of the population is non-Hispanic white.

“There’s a sense that the new residents don’t look like us or sound like us,” says Rev. Kuritz. “People feel it’s not like it used to be.”

The region had been drifting from its New Deal Democratic roots for years, and Mr. Trump took full advantage with its working-class voters. They had long been sympathetic to conservative arguments on issues such as gun control and abortion, while skeptical of the GOP’s perceived catering to the wealthy. Mr. Trump’s brand of populism bridged that divide.

County GOP leaders say they looked to boost turnout by shifting two paid workers to Hazleton, a city that gained national prominence by passing an ordinance penalizing landlords for renting to illegal immigrants, which was later blocked by the courts. “Immigration is a big issue there,” says Luzerne County Chairman Ron Ferrance. “There are so many passionate people” who were ready to make phone calls and canvass for Mr. Trump, who takes a hard line on immigration, he says.

Bill O’Boyle, a veteran reporter and columnist for Wilkes-Barre’s Times Leader, says he figured Mr. Trump was a lock to win Luzerne County when he compared the turnout at political rallies. The area has long been a stopover for presidential campaigns.

“You had Hillary Clinton, 500 people. Teddy Cruz, 300 people. Bernie Sanders, 1,500 people. And then Donald Trump, 11,000. How could those crowds not mean something?”

Nineteen-year-old Jasmine Castillo, who makes tacos at the family’s food truck in Wilkes-Barre’s downtown, says her family’s life has become worse as Mr. Trump’s popularity soared. People now tell her to speak English when she speaks Spanish, and to go back across the border, though she is an American citizen. Someone left feces outside her father’s kitchen-cabinet business, she says.

“People feel empowered now” to make insults and threats against Hispanics, she says. “It’s terrifying.”

Martha Wallace, whose family owns a small manufacturer of crucifixes and other Catholic jewelry, says, “Trump drummed up the enthusiasm, just like Obama drummed up the enthusiasm last time.” Her 7-year-old son has declared himself “a Trump man.” Her 16-year-old daughter also supports Trump. “I’ve encouraged her to dream big,” Ms. Wallace says.

Ms. Wallace says she is worried about the future of the U.S. economy and the threat of terrorism, and is counting on a Trump presidency to ease her fears about both. “We hope some of Trump’s economic policy will make it easier for us compete and still stay true to always being a ‘Made in the USA’ company,” she says.

For Mr. Trump’s supporters, expectations are so high it reminds them of what they once felt for President Obama.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Tamika Shupp twice voted for Barack Obama as the candidate best equipped to shake up Washington. This year she chose Donald Trump for the same reason.

“Obama tried to do well, and it didn’t turn out how we thought,” said Ms. Shupp as she prepared Polish dumplings at Mom & Pop’s Pierogis in this Rust Belt city. Mr. Trump should do better, she figures, by cracking down on illegal immigration and upholding American values like hard work.

Mr. Trump “is going to be another Obama,” said the 43-year-old Ms. Shupp. She considers both men to be agents of change. As for the crude remarks Mr. Trump made during the campaign, especially concerning women, Ms. Shupp said she dismissed them as bragging and “shoptalk,” and she didn’t believe the women who accused him of sexual assault.

[…]

Foreign competition largely wiped out the area’s dress and shoe industries. Many in the county bitterly remember pencil maker Eberhard Faber moving a plant to Mexico in the mid-1980s and other manufacturers closing factories. A plan in the mid-2000s to capitalize on computer-network technology and turn the county into “Wall Street West” proved a bust after few financial firms moved back-office processing to the area. The Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce is hatching a new plan to attract businesses by involving the local colleges in recruitment efforts, but the program is too new to have much effect so far.

The unemployment rate in Luzerne County, now 6.2%, has generally exceeded the national average since 2000, and manufacturing employment in the county is down by around one-third since 2000. Many of the jobs that remain are low-wage service ones in local hospitals, colleges, chain restaurants and stores. Median income, after accounting for inflation, has been flat in Luzerne County since 2000.

Young people are leaving the region in search of jobs elsewhere, leaving an older, more conservative group of voters. In Luzerne, the population has remained steady since 2000, at about 320,000, but the number of people age 25 to 44 fell by about 10,000, according to Moody’sAnalytics.

The weak economy has, over the decades, contributed to a tattering of the county’s social fabric. Church attendance is down since 2000, opioid addiction is up, and civic organizations like the Rotary Club and the Masons have trouble recruiting young members, say local residents. Of the four Evangelical Lutheran churches in Wilkes-Barre in 2000, says Rev. Peter Kuritz of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, one closed and two other don’t have full-time pastors.

Meanwhile, the county’s Hispanic population has climbed nearly 10-fold since 2000, to 31,000, adding a layer of ethnic tension to a place where 84% of the population is non-Hispanic white.

“There’s a sense that the new residents don’t look like us or sound like us,” says Rev. Kuritz. “People feel it’s not like it used to be.”

The region had been drifting from its New Deal Democratic roots for years, and Mr. Trump took full advantage with its working-class voters. They had long been sympathetic to conservative arguments on issues such as gun control and abortion, while skeptical of the GOP’s perceived catering to the wealthy. Mr. Trump’s brand of populism bridged that divide.

County GOP leaders say they looked to boost turnout by shifting two paid workers to Hazleton, a city that gained national prominence by passing an ordinance penalizing landlords for renting to illegal immigrants, which was later blocked by the courts. “Immigration is a big issue there,” says Luzerne County Chairman Ron Ferrance. “There are so many passionate people” who were ready to make phone calls and canvass for Mr. Trump, who takes a hard line on immigration, he says.

Bill O’Boyle, a veteran reporter and columnist for Wilkes-Barre’s Times Leader, says he figured Mr. Trump was a lock to win Luzerne County when he compared the turnout at political rallies. The area has long been a stopover for presidential campaigns.

“You had Hillary Clinton, 500 people. Teddy Cruz, 300 people. Bernie Sanders, 1,500 people. And then Donald Trump, 11,000. How could those crowds not mean something?”

Nineteen-year-old Jasmine Castillo, who makes tacos at the family’s food truck in Wilkes-Barre’s downtown, says her family’s life has become worse as Mr. Trump’s popularity soared. People now tell her to speak English when she speaks Spanish, and to go back across the border, though she is an American citizen. Someone left feces outside her father’s kitchen-cabinet business, she says.

“People feel empowered now” to make insults and threats against Hispanics, she says. “It’s terrifying.”

Martha Wallace, whose family owns a small manufacturer of crucifixes and other Catholic jewelry, says, “Trump drummed up the enthusiasm, just like Obama drummed up the enthusiasm last time.” Her 7-year-old son has declared himself “a Trump man.” Her 16-year-old daughter also supports Trump. “I’ve encouraged her to dream big,” Ms. Wallace says.

Ms. Wallace says she is worried about the future of the U.S. economy and the threat of terrorism, and is counting on a Trump presidency to ease her fears about both. “We hope some of Trump’s economic policy will make it easier for us compete and still stay true to always being a ‘Made in the USA’ company,” she says.

For Mr. Trump’s supporters, expectations are so high it reminds them of what they once felt for President Obama.

Mr. Ferrance, the Republican county chairman, says he realizes voters expect Mr. Trump to deliver. “If it’s the status quo, people will be upset,” he says. “People want him to govern in the spirit of what he said” during the campaign.

He figures there is some wiggle room in some of Mr. Trump’s more controversial stances, such as his repeated claim that the U.S. would build a wall across the U.S.-Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. Maybe, he says, Mr. Trump could argue that job growth caused by tougher trade policy would be a way of having Mexico “pay.”

It is ironic that in the eight years of the Obama Administration that Vice President Biden, who grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania,  hadn’t recognized the economic and social devastation in Northeastern  Pennsylvania and developed programs to alleviate  and revitalize the communities.  But then Democrat Presidential candidate characterized those in Wilkes Barre who showed up at rallies as ‘deplorables.”

Now the residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania and other rust belt communities in the U.S. are banking on the Trump Administration to deliver on the promises he made at those rallies that gave them, once again, “hope.”

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Is Kurdistan Rising?

In the Wall Street Journal Weekend edition, June 20-21, 2015, Yaroslav Trofimov writes of the possible rise of an independent Kurdistan, “The State of The Kurds”. An independent Kurdistan was promised by the WWI Allies in the Treaty of Sevres that ended the Ottoman Empire in 1920. That commitment was dashed by the rise of Turkish Republic under the secularist Kemal Atatürk confirmed in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne denying an independent Kurdistan in what is now Eastern Turkey. Combined a future Kurdistan encompassing eastern Turkey, Northern Syria, northwest Iran and northern Iraq might comprise a landlocked republic of 30 million with significant energy and agricultural resources. The rise of Kurdistan is reflected in these comments in the Trofimov WSJ review article:

Selahattin Demirtas, Chairman of the HDP party in Turkey:

The Kurds’ existence was not recognized; they were hidden behind a veil. But now, after being invisible for a century, they are taking their place on the international stage. Today, international powers can no longer resolve any issue in the Middle East without taking into account the interests of the Kurds.

Tahir Elçi, a prominent Kurdish lawyer and chairman of the bar in Diyarbakir, Turkey:

In the past, when the Kurds sought self-rule, the Turks, the Persians and the Arabs were all united against it. Today that’s not true anymore—it’s not possible for the Shiite government in Iraq and Shiite Iran to work together against the Kurds with the Sunni Turkey and the Sunni ISIS. In this environment, the Kurds have become a political and a military power in the Middle East.

Elçi, amplifies a concern that Sherkoh Abbas, leader of the Kurdish National Syria Assembly (KURDNAS) has expressed in several NER interviews an articles with him:

The PKK has made important steps to adopt more democratic ways. But you cannot find the same climate of political diversity in [Kurdish] Syria as you find in [northern Iraq], and this is because of PKK’s authoritarian and Marxist background. This is a big problem.

As effective as the KRG government and peshmerga have been in pushing back at ISIS forces threatening the capital of Erbil, the real problem is the divisiveness in the political leadership. That is reflected in the comment of  Erbil province’s governor, Nawaf Hadi cited by Trofimov:

For 80 years, the Arab Sunni people led Iraq—and they destroyed Kurdistan. Now we’ve been for 10 years with the Shiite people [dominant in Baghdad], and they’ve cut the funding and the salaries—how can we count on them as our partner in Iraq?” All the facts on the ground encourage the Kurds to be independent.

That renewed prospect reflects the constellation of  events in Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

The fall of the AKP government in the Turkish Election of June 7, 2015

There was  the  stunning  defeat of the 13 year reign of  the Islamist AKP headed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by the trio of secular, nationalist and upstart Kurdish parties, the CHP, HNP and HDP that might form a minority ruling coalition 45 days from the June 7, 2014 parliamentary elections. These minority parties garnered a plurality of 299 seats in the Ankara Parliament.  That is if these parties can coalesce. If not Islamist figurehead President Erdogan seek new elections if they can’t put together a new ruling government.  A Washington, D.C. forum on what the results of the Turkish  election convened by the Foundation for Defense  of Democracies (FDD) forum presented nuanced views. Watch this C-Span video of the FDD forum.

FDD Senior Counselor John Hannah moderated the discussion with former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and FDD Senior Advisor  former US Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman and FDD Non-Resident Fellow and former member of Turkish parliament Ayman Erdemir.

John Hannah

June 7 in my opinion was an inspiring performance, a much needed triumph of the spirit of liberal democracy in a Middle East landscape currently inundated with way too much bad news.

For those of us who have watched over the past decade with great dismay the slow drip of Turkey’s democracy being drained away by Erdogan’s creeping Islamism and authoritarianism, we frankly weren’t sure anymore if the Turkish people had this kind of an election in them.

Aykan Erdemir

My take-home message would be that we should not read these elections too much with a progressive, liberal-democratic interpretation. But we should not underemphasize the importance of it either, because ultimately June 7 proved to us that there could be a return from competitive authoritarianism, where an incumbent with huge advantages nevertheless can suffer a relative defeat in the ballot box.

I have always argued that Erdogan’s policies and politics cannot be interpreted within the nation-state borders. Erdogan’s policies right from the start have been transnational; it has always been a Muslim Brotherhood-oriented policy, whether in Syria, Jordan, or Egypt. He is a visionary transnationalist politician.”

Ambassador Edelman

Turkey is a deeply polarized society, and the bad news there is that the AKP is the only party that is competitive across the nation.

Erdogan will not see this vote in any way as inhibiting him in creating an executive presidency. …My suspicion is that Erdogan does not want to see a government formed within the 45-day period set by the constitution and would like to see the country go back to elections. He thinks that if he could apply the ‘keep voting until I get the right answer’ standard, there is a chance he will do better in a second election, get at least a governing majority if not the super-majority.

Dr. Harold Rhode, former Turkish and Islamic Affairs expert in the Office of the Secretary of Defense held a more optimistic view cited in a JNS.org article on the Turkish Elections, “noting that he personally knows pro-American and pro-Israel officials “within the senior leadership of all three of the [non-AKP] parties.”

Syrian YPG Fighters capture Tal Abyad  Reuters

Syrian YPG fighters capture Tal-Abyad from ISIS, June 2015. Source: Reuters.

Syrian Kurdish YPG victory at strategic border town of  Tal-Abyad

The second development was the victory by Syrian Kurdish PYG fighters , Christian Assyrian and secular  FSA militias  wresting the strategic border gateway of Tal-Abyad  from  ISIS with support from  US coalition air strikes. This followed the  January 2015 victory in  the siege at the border  city of Kobani. The Syrian PYG, affiliated with the Turkish PKK, a  terrorist group designated by  Turkey, EU and the US, whose leader Abdullah Ocalan is under house arrest in Turkey,  has been assisted  by fighting units of the Iraqi Peshmerga from the adjacent Kurdish Regional Government  (KRG)in northern Iraq.  The third development was the KRG Peshmerga wresting   control  of Kirkuk and its vast  oil field. Kirkuk, as Trofimov noted  is considered  the “Kurdish Jerusalem” .  Not to be outdone by Kurdish compatriots in Syria and Iraq, in mid-May 2015, Iranian Kurdish  Party of Free Life in Kurdistan ( PJAK)  forces in northwestern Iran’s Zagros mountain  fought  Iranian security forces in Mahabad.  Mahabad  was the capital of the short-lived State of Republic  Kurdistan established with Soviet Russian support in  Iran in 1945- 1946.

KRG Delegation meets with resident Obama VO Biden and National Security Council May 2015

Kurdish President Barzani and KRG delegation meet President Obama and VP Biden May 2015.

KRG Meets with President to Free up Arms Deliveries

The KRG quest for independence has been stymied by the Baghdad government of PM Haidar al-Abadi.  The Baghdad  government has not lived up to its agreement reached in December 2014 to provide regular payments to the KRG amounting  to nearly $5.7 billion in exchange for selling 550,000 barrels of oil. The result has been that KRG government  and the 160,000 Peshmerga force have not been paid in months.  More troubling has been the current agreements between the Obama Administration  and  the al-Abadi government for allocation and deliveries of heavy weapons that have not found their way to the highly effective Peshmerga fighting force. This is especially galling given the thousands of Humvees, mobile artillery, anti-tank, main battle tanks and MRAP vehicles abandoned by fleeing Iraqi national security forces in the conquest of Mosul in June 2014 and Ramadi in late May.

A  meeting occurred in Washington in early May 2015 with  KRG President Barzani and senior officials with President Obama, Vice President Biden and members of the National  Security Staff seeking resolution of this impasse.   Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near Policy wrote about this in a May 15, 2015 Al Jazeera, article, “A big win for Kurds at the White House”:

From May 3-8, 2015, Washington D.C. hosted a high-powered delegation from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). KRG President Massoud Barzani was flanked by Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, National Security Chancellor Masrour Barzani and Minister of Peshmerga Affairs Mustapha Sayyid Qadr, among other KRG ministers and officials.  [The delegation was originally scheduled for a five minute meeting with President Obama, instead the session lasted an hour].

In particular, the Kurds complained that Washington has allocated too small a proportion of its $1.6bn Iraq Train and Equip Fund (ITEF) assistance to Kurdistan.

Slow and indirect delivery of US weapons systems is a connected concern. Washington has chosen to funnel most weapons shipments via the federal Iraqi Ministry of Defense, the only entity entitled by US law to sign end-user certificates (EUCs) for the weapons.

[…]In reaction to these views, the House Armed Services Committee of the US Congress introduced clauses into the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Pentagon’s budget, in an attempt to protect the Kurds’ fair share of US weapons.

The draft NDAA for Fiscal Year 2016 was amended by congress to include a clause (Section 1223) that named the Peshmerga as one of a number of security forces collectively entitled to “not less than 25 percent” of the annual $715m of US support.

Most controversially the amendment would allow the KRG “as a country” to “directly receive assistance from the United States” if Baghdad failed to meet the aforementioned condition, a clause that sparked security threats from Shia militia leaders against US trainers in Iraq.

Baghdad protested the language, and US Vice President Joe Biden signaled one day before the Kurdish delegation landed that “all US military assistance in the fight against [ISIL] comes at the request of the Government of Iraq and must be coordinated through the Government of Iraq”.

[…]

Instead of trying to force the White House to do Kurdistan’s bidding through pressure politics, Barzani seems to have adopted a longer-term view in his dealings with the US on defense.

Section 1223 did not give the Kurds a great deal – sharing a quarter of US material collectively with Sunni Arab paramilitary recipients – but it would have soured relations with the Obama administration at a critical time.

Israeli Support for an Independent Kurdistan

One  Middle East nation that  supports an independent Kurdistan  is Israel . As exemplified by comments from  Israeli Prime Minister  Netanyahu, Israel supports the creation of an independent Kurdistan in  Iraq.  There is a long connection between the Kurds and the Jewish nation. There is  an estimated 150,000 Kurdish Jewish  population in Israel that has fostered  cultural –linguistic exchanges with Iraqi Kurdistan.  Iraqi and Iranian kurds smuggled Iraqi Jews to freedom via Iran, during the days of the late Shah, to Israel and the West.  Iranian Kurds continued that effort despite  the Islamic republic facilitating the departure of Iranian Jews  via Turkey to reach  Israel.  From the 1950’s to the mid-70’s Israel provided covert military training and  equipment  to Iraqi Kurds  against the Ba’athist regime of the late Saddam Hussein.  That ended with a treaty between the late Shah of Iran and Hussein orchestrated by Henry Kissinger in 1975.  During the 1980’s Hussein took his revenge on Iraqi kurds during the  Iran-Iraq War  in a series of genocidal revenge campaigns including a massive gas attack that killed thousands decimating Kurdish villages.   Israel currently hosts the huge U.S. War Reserve Stock for use in Middle East conflicts. Perhaps, the Obama Administration might relent on the current agreements with the Baghdad government and permit transfers from the US War Reserve Stock   in Israel of much needed weapons, equipment and munitions to the Peshmerga in Iraq and the Syrian Kurdish militias fighting ISIS.  Israel is less than several hundred miles from Erbil.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of supporters cheering Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, HDP, in Istanbul, Turkey, in May, 2015. Source: Emrah Gurel/AP.

U.S. Senator Cotton’s Letter to Iran’s Leaders Clarified

When Arkansas junior Senator Tom Cotton sent his open letter on Monday, March 9th to “The Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” signed by 46 other Republican colleagues, 7 declined, it caused a ruckus.

Cotton’s letter endeavored to  remind Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif of the Constitutional authorities.  The Executive Branch’s power in Article II, Sec.2 gives  it the right to negotiate foreign agreements. The Legislative Branch, in this case the Senate, must provide its “advise and consent” to treaties on a two-thirds vote and a three-fifths vote in the instances of Congressional-executive agreements. Anything not approved by Congress, such as the current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei is deemed an executive agreement which could end with current term of the President in January 2017. Thus “the next President could revoke the executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

From the President to leading Democratic Senators, the short missive was rebuked as an unwelcome ‘stunt’ interfering with the Executive Branch of government prerogative of engaging in foreign relations.  President Obama considered it “ironic” considering  the signatories of the Cotton letter in league with those notorious hard liners in Tehran.  He alleged they were seeking to upend the MOU. The New York Daily News published a front page  picture of the Cotton letter accusing the signatories of being ‘traitors’.  For the first 48 hours that continued to be the criticism of Sen. Cotton and the GOP leadership in the Senate, with the exception of the 7 who agreed with the White House for different reasons. Senator Corker (R-TN) thought it was unhelpful as he was endeavoring to line up Democratic votes for his Senate Bill 615, The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) of 2015 co-sponsored by embattled Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif while calling the Cotton letter, “a propaganda ploy” argued:

“I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law,” according to Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The executive agreement was not bilateral but rather multi-lateral with the rest of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, subject to a resolution of the Security Council.

That majority of US international agreements in recent decades are in fact what the signatories describe as “mere executive agreements” and not treaties ratified by the Senate.

That “their letter in fact undermines the credibility of thousands of such mere executive agreements that have been or will be entered into by the US with various other governments.”

Ayatollah Khamenei considered the Cotton letter reflective of the “US disintegration”. According to the Mehr news agency, the Supreme Ruler said:

Of course I am worried. Every time we reach a stage where the end of the negotiations is in sight, the tone of the other side, specifically the Americans, becomes harsher, coarser and tougher. This is the nature of their tricks and deceptions.

Further, he said the letter was ‘a sign of the decay of political ethics in the American system”, and he described as “laughable long-standing U.S. accusations of Iranian involvement in terrorism.”

Jen Psaki 3-11-15  Legal Insurrrection

Source: Legal Insurrection

Notwithstanding the roiling criticism of the Cotton letter, comments by Secretary Kerry at a Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Wednesday, echoed those of State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki on Tuesday who said, “historically, the United States has pursued important national security through non-binding arrangements.” Kerry said in his testimony that the Obama Administration was “not negotiating a legally binding plan” but one from “executive to executive,” Politico reported. Kerry insisted such a deal would still “have a capacity of enforcement.” Thus, he confirmed that the proposed Memorandum of Understanding  between the P5+1  and Iran was non-binding on the parties hinging on verification of conditions.  Something hitherto unachievable with the Mullahs who have a tendency to hide developments. This despite representations by President Obama that the negotiations in Geneva were making good progress towards that goal. Kerry said it was non-binding because we currently don’t recognize the Islamic Republic of Iran, passed embargoes arising from the 444 day Tehran US Embassy seizure and hostage taking in 1979 and adopted Congressional sanctions against its nuclear program. Further, the State Department considers the Republic a state sponsor of terrorism, something Ayatollah Khamenei categorically disagrees with as witnessed by his comments on the Cotton letter.  But seeing is believing when it comes to the Shia autocrats in Tehran proficient practitioners of taqiyya, otherwise known as lying for Allah. Iran ‘reformist’ President Hassan Rouhani suggested that diplomacy with the Administration was an active form of “jihad” equivalent to the 2,500 mile range cruise missile Iran unveiled this week.

Two legal experts on the matter of executive agreements disagreed with the position of Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Secretary Kerry in the context of the Cotton letter. Daniel Wiser writing in the Washington Free Beacon asserted  that Cotton was correct and Zarif wrong. They concurred that future US Presidents could revoke the agreement over a bad deal, meaning, violation of provisions by Iran:

Jeremy Rabkin, a law professor at George Mason University and an expert in international law and Constitutional history, said in an email that “nonbinding” by definition means that the United States “will not violate international law if we don’t adhere to its terms”—contrary to Zarif’s assertion.

“In other words we’re saying it is NOT an international obligation, just a statement of intent,” he said.

“What Kerry seemed to say was not that his Iran deal would be in the same category but that it would not be legally binding in any sense, just a kind of memorandum of understanding,” Rabkin said. “I wonder whether he understood what he was saying. It was more or less conceding that what Cotton’s letter said was the administration’s own view—that the ‘agreement’ with Iran would not be legally binding, so (presumably) not something that could bind Obama’s successor.”

Cotton responded with a Tweet, saying:

Important question: if deal with Iran isn’t legally binding, then what’s to keep Iran from breaking said deal and developing a bomb?

Wiser then cites a National Review article by a second legal expert, John Yoo, a law professor at University of California, Berkeley and a former Justice Department official in the George W. Bush Administration:

The Cotton letter is right, because if President Obama strikes a nuclear deal with Iran using only [an executive agreement], he is only committing to refrain from exercising his executive power—i.e., by not attacking Iran or by lifting sanctions under power delegated by Congress. Not only could the next president terminate the agreement; Obama himself could terminate the deal.  Obama’s executive agreement cannot prevent Congress from imposing mandatory, severe sanctions on Iran without the possibility of presidential waiver (my preferred solution for handling the Iranian nuclear crisis right now). Obama can agree to allow Iran to keep a nuclear-processing capability; Congress can cut Iran out of the world trading and financial system.

But the fracas over Cotton’s letter continued unabated. An unidentified resident of Bogota, N.J.  “C.H.” shot off a petition to the Obama White House website, “We the People,” expressing the view that the 47 signers were in violation of the 1799 Logan Act and may have jeopardized achievement of a nuclear agreement with Iran.  Further “C.H.” contended that the Republican Senators might be subject to possible criminal actions brought under provisions of the hoary law that private individuals are barred from engaging in foreign relations. The petition took off like a rocket with upwards of 165,000 signatures heading for over 200,000 in less than 48 hours. That will allegedly require a response by the President, as witnessed by an earlier petition on support for medical marijuana.

But “C.H.” is wrong. Members of Congress in either chamber are exempt from that restriction. Moreover, there have been a number of instances where the many of the Democratic Congressional and Administration critics of Cotton and his Republican colleagues have engaged in private foreign relations episodes.  Among those who undertook such actions were Vice President Biden, Secretary Kerry when they were Senators and current House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and the late Teddy Kennedy.  In Pelosi’s case, following her assumption of the House Speakership in 2006, she went off to Damascus in 2007 to sit with President Bashar Assad, despite the protestations of the Bush Administration who were trying to isolate the Syrian dictator.  However,  Republicans have done the same thing when it also suited their political purposes.

Finally, there was another groundswell campaign seeking to gain passage of Sen. Corker’s INARA.  Christians United for Israel (CUFI) flooded Capitol Hill with more than 57,000 emails from members across the US in support of passage of INARA because they were worried about Iran’s possession of nuclear capabilities.  The CUFI initiative was triggered by the March 3rd address by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu before a Joint Meeting of Congress  who made it abundantly clear that he believed the Administration’s 10 year phased deal was a “very bad deal.”

 writing in the Legal Insurrection blog about the Cotton letter controversy concluded:

And to think, all of that wailing and gnashing of teeth from Democrats wasted over a non-binding agreement, one that would have absolutely no legal sway over Iran.

RELATED ARTICLES:

What You Need to Know About the White House’s Talks With Iran

Is Obama Sidestepping Congress and Going to UN on Iran Deal?

Iranian President: Diplomacy with U.S. is an active jihad

Saudi Nuclear Deal Raises Stakes for Iran Talks

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) poses for photographers in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 11, 2015. Source: Carolyn Kaster— AP.

Boston Strong?

April 15th marked the first commemoration of the Boston Marathon Bombing that occurred at the Boylston Street finish line on April 15, 2013 in two devastating explosions at 2:49 PM triggered by homemade pressure cookers bombs packed with lethal shrapnel. The nation was riveted for five days by the pursuant of refugee Jihadists of Chechen origin, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarneav who planned and perpetrated the bombing. The elder Tamerlan dies in a hail of bullets, while his younger sibling Dzhokhar was captured cowering in a boat in the backyard of a Watertown neighborhood. Dzhokhar’s trial is scheduled in a Boston Federal Court in November 2014.  The Federal prosecutors are seeking a death penalty for his actions.

President Obama observed the Bombing in a private moment of silence. Vice President Biden journeyed to Boston to join in a memorial with Mayor Marty Walsh, former Mayor Thomas Menino, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick first responders and four survivors at a series of scheduled events at the Hynes Convention Center.

Biden commended these survivors for their “pure courage”.  Further he said, “You have become the face of America’s resolve.” He completed his speech saying, “We are Boston. We are America. We respond, we endure, we overcome, and we own the finish line.”

Governor Patrick reflecting the Hub City’s community spirit said, “We are no strangers here.”

These remarks at today’s commemoration and memorial bolstered the imagery of Boston Strong defiant, yet grieving over the losses in both human and spiritual terms.  There is an exhibit at the Boston Public Library at the head of the Copley Square with a selection drawn from the City of Boston Archives of the global outpouring of sympathies.  There were blessings for runners who have signed up for the 2014 Marathon, re- scheduled for April 21st, who will run in  the name of those killed and injured, many maimed for life with missing limbs. There will be panel discussions of the resilience of the Boston community and books to be published on the occasion of this commemoration.

Governor Patrick has contended that  security planning for this year’s Boston Marathon is has been “very thorough”,   preparing  for the legendary race’s 26 mile plus route from suburban Hopkington, Massachusetts to the finish line in Copley Square.

The devastation is reflected in the opening stanzas of our article on this tragic event in the May 2013 edition of the New English Review, Refugee Jihad Terror in Boston:

Those Boston Marathon blasts occurred less than 13 seconds apart at approximately 2:49 PM on Monday, April 15, 2013. They left a trail of deaths and destruction in what is now called the Boston Marathon Massacre involving three dead and more that 282 treated for injuries. Fourteen were severely maimed for life with missing limbs. The deaths caused by the Tsarnaev brothers include 8 year old Martin Richard, 29 year old Krystle Campbell and 23 year old Lu Lingzi, a Chinese national and Boston University graduate student. 26 year old MIT police officer Sean Collier was killed by the Tsarnaevs while in his patrol car in Cambridge. Richard Donahue, a 33 year old Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority police officer was also shot and critically wounded.

Notwithstanding, perhaps because of today’s commemorations in Boston there are lingering questions even before the trial of younger brother Dzhokhar begins later this year in Boston.

Questions remain regarding whether the Jihad attack could have been prevented given emerging evidence.

There is  evidence of Russian intercepts of telephone conversations between Tamerlan and his mother in Dagestan expressing jihadist ideology passed on to the FBI in 2011.  A recent Intelligence Inspector General report exonerated the FBI pointing a finger at the alleged failure of the Russian intelligence service to respond to follow up questions.  There are allegations by Dzhokhar’s lawyers that the FBI tried to enlist elder brother Tamerlan as an informant.

Then there is a question raised in a recent Boston Magazine investigative article “Murders before the Marathon” about the Middlesex County prosecutor and FBI investigations of the grisly 2011 murders of three men, two of them Jews,  in an alleged  bust drug deal in Waltham, Massachusetts on 9/11/2011.  The three murdered men Brendan Mess, 25; Raphael Teken, 37; and Eric Weissman, 31, were found with their throats cut in September of 2011, and their bodies were covered with marijuana.” The author of the Boston Magazine article had met one of the victims Eric Weissman, a purveyor of designer marijuana in a casual deal as a college student and was able to interview the victim’s wife and the girl friend of one of the accomplices killed in an Orlando, Florida shooting by an FBI agent.

 According to the Boston Magazine article the information available to Middlesex County police and prosecutors might have led to indictment of the Tsarneavs thereby preventing implementation of their jihad at the Marathon finish line in 2013. Those investigations into the Waltham triple murders went cold for over 570 days, only reignited by the Tsarneav perpetration of the Marathon Bombing.  There was  both DNA evidence and corroboration of  the perpetrators by the wife of the one of those murdered linking the participation of Tsarneavs along with an accomplice,  fellow Chechen Refugee, Ibragim Todashev.

Todashev, according to Ann Corcoran at Refugee Resettlement Watch, was granted asylum by the US DOJ Executive Office of Immigration Review under false pretenses pointing to a threat to his life in Chechnya, despite the fact that his father was a Chechen official.  Todashev was killed in an alleged assault in his Orlando apartment nine months ago in a shooting by an FBI agent allegedly justified by a knife attack by Todaschev. That killing is still being investigated by independent Florida prosecutors. However, recently the FBI Agent’s actions were deemed “justified”.

There is also the matter of  whether the Mosque in Cambridge, affiliated with Muslim Brotherhood-backed Islamic Cultural Center of Boston (ISBCC) should have been subject to community policing akin to that of the NYPD.  We raise this because another Muslim Brotherhood front, MPAC with entree to the Obama White House, FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s advisory council, has been promoting an initiative, “Safe Spaces”.  According to a Wall Street Journal article,  “Mosques get a New Message”, Safe Spaces , is about  a voluntary program  by boards of  American  Mosques engaging in identifying and ‘converting’ extremists in their midst thereby co-opting local and national law enforcement profiling of their communities.  The trigger for the MPAC initiative is an incident that occurred at the Cambridge Mosque involved Tamerlan in January 2013. The WSJ article noted the event and reactions of the ISBCC spokesperson to the MPAC Safe Spaces initiative:

In January 2013, months before the bombing, [Tamerlan] shouted at a speaker who compared Martin Luther King Jr. to Muhammad, calling him a “hypocrite.”

Afterward, mosque leaders gave him an ultimatum, saying that if he ever interrupted Friday service again he would be expelled, said Yusufi Vali, a spokesman for the mosque.

The MPAC report said Mr. Tamerlan’s outbursts “were more than enough cause for concern to warrant intervention from community leaders to help provide counseling” which “might have revealed other red flags that would generate greater concern” and eventually have alerted law enforcement.

Mr. Vali said he hadn’t yet read the MPAC report, and declined to comment on it, “so I can’t respond to adopting the initiative or whether that would have been a better approach.”

This first commemoration is focused on the resilience of Boston honoring the memories of those who lost their lives at the hands of the Jihadists, the Tsarneav brothers.

Tuesday evening, Boston Police detained a man for questioning about two unattended backpacks left at the Boylston Street Marathon finish line.  ABC news reported the bomb squad blew u p the backpacks. Police have cleared the area. Trains are bypassing the nearby Copley Square station. The police department has tweeted asking people to avoid the area.

Given the continuing investigations into the Bombing and these latest developments, are Boston and our nation prepared to prevent another jihadist attack in a public space?

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.