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Helen Benedict, The Increasing Persecution of Refugees

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There’s a reason — beyond all the obvious ones — that we should be more focused on refugees. Sadly enough, as journalist, novelist, and Columbia University Professor Helen Benedict makes clear in her first TomDispatch piece, such reasons are already anything but lacking. In fact, from the start, refugees in flight proved to be pure gold for Donald Trump and what became the Trumpublican Party. From the moment he first rode down Trump Tower’s golden escalator to declare to a crowd, many of whom his campaign had hired, that he was running for president, he was already smearing desperate refugees at our borders. (“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”) And he would never stop smearing people in wrenching flight from their homes as “animals” and their existence here as “American carnage.”

Sadly enough, this may be Donald Trump’s world, since, in the years to come, as this planet broils, ever more of humanity will be all too literally driven from their homes, like Pakistanis last July when one-third of their country was flooded. Brutal storms, staggering heat, you name it and it’s going to turn ever more of us into refugees.  In fact, millions of people globally are already being displaced and, by 2050, it’s estimated that 1.2 billion human beings — yes, you read that right! — could become climate refugees.

As it happens, so many of us in this country are only here because our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, or great-great-grandparents fled nightmares in other countries. My own grandfather arrived here in the 1890s at age 16, alone, in the steerage of a ship, with the equivalent of 50 cents in his pocket. With that in mind, this seems like an all-too-reasonable moment to ignore the Trumpublicans and try to give a little thought to just how badly refugees are being treated globally — if, that is, they aren’t Ukrainians.

So, my suggestion: join Benedict, who’s been covering the global refugee crisis for years, including those fleeing from our all-American wars of this century. Most recently, she’s been reporting from Greece, where she met Syrian writer and refugee Eyad Awwadawnan. The two of them wrote the just-published book, Map of Hope and Sorrow: Stories of Refugees Trapped in Greece, about how refugees are being abused not only there, but all over the West. Today, she considers how differently Europe and the United States have been treating white, Christian Ukrainian refugees than those from anywhere else. If, to steal a phrase from President Joe Biden, how we deal with refugees reflects “who we are and who we want to be,” then, as Benedict makes clear, we need to do a whole lot better and — given the planet we’re on — soon. Tom

Unequal Mercy

The West’s Approach to Refugees

Almost anyone would agree that war is horrifying and peaceful countries should do their best to help its victims. The widespread eagerness to welcome fleeing Ukrainians after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded their country last February is a heartening example of such aid. But behind that altruism lies an ugly truth: most of the countries embracing Ukrainians are simultaneously persecuting equally desperate refugees from elsewhere.

Such unequal mercy would be no surprise from nations like Ukraine's neighbors Hungary and Poland, controlled by nationalist parties that have rarely welcomed anyone not white and Christian. However, the same thing is happening in Western Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, and here in the United States, the very democracies sworn to protect those fleeing war and persecution and that, in the case of America, sometimes turned those people into refugees in the first place. Our Global War on Terror alone has displaced an estimated 37 million people since we invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

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Stan Cox and Priti Gulati Cox, “We Have Not Yet Been Defeated”

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Oxfam puts the matter all too strikingly: “The number of climate-related disasters has tripled in the last 30 years. Between 2006 and 2016, the rate of global sea-level rise was 2.5 times faster than it was for almost all of the 20th century. More than 20 million people a year are forced from their homes by climate change.” And, of course, that’s just to begin a rundown of what’s already becoming an endless list of unprecedented floods, fires, megadroughts, melting ice and rising sea levels, ever more devastating storms, and so on down a list that only gets longer by the year. And the human toll from all this, especially in the Global South, grows ever more horrifying.

Take, as an example, drought caused significantly by the overheating of this planet — and here, I’m not thinking about the 500-year record drought in Europe last summer, the heat of which is estimated to have been responsible for more than 20,000 deaths, or the 1,200-year record megadrought in the American West (now moving east), or the record-blazing temperatures in China for two months last summer.  No, what’s on my mind are the climate-change-influenced droughts that have repeatedly struck the Horn of Africa after five seasons of failed rains, the latest of which is so severe that, in Somalia alone, hundreds of thousands of people (particularly starving children) could die in the resulting famine.

Yes, climate change is increasing the death toll in the rich industrial countries of the Global North, too.  In 2021, for instance, the United States experienced 20 billion-dollar climate and weather disasters, the second largest group of them in its history. (You undoubtedly won’t be surprised to discover that the record — 22 — was set only the year before and will undoubtedly be broken again in the years to come.) From them came an estimated 688 direct or indirect deaths. And that is, of course, a horror, but still a relatively modest number compared to the 1,700 or more Pakistanis who died from this year’s singularly devastating summer floods alone, and if Africa’s famine turns out as expected, that number will be less than nothing by comparison.

Sadly, unlike the northern powers largely responsible for the greenhouse gases that created this growing set of disasters, as TomDispatch regulars Stan and Priti Gulati Cox explain today, the countries of the Global South can’t afford to pay for what’s happening to them. And at a time when the major fossil-fuel companies — housed, of course, largely in the Global North — are still raking in staggering profits off their oil and natural gas supplies, as that line straight out of my childhood went: there oughta be a law.  Sadly, there isn’t, even though, when you think about it, those fossil-fuel companies could be considered the real terrorists of Planet Earth. Tom

Paying for an Overheating Earth

Whose Planet Are We On?

On October 29th, 75-year-old Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo Bay’s oldest detainee, was finally released by U.S. authorities and flown home to his family in Karachi, Pakistan. He had been incarcerated for nearly two decades without either charges or a trial. His plane touched down in a land still reeling from this year’s cataclysmic monsoon floods that, in July, had covered an unparalleled one-third of that country. Even his own family’s neighborhood, the well-heeled Defense Housing Authority complex, had been thoroughly inundated with, as a reporter wrote at the time, “water gushing into houses.”

Having endured 19 years of suffering inflicted by the brute force of imperialism during America's "Global War on Terror,” Paracha, along with all of Pakistan, will now suffer through the climatic devastation wrought by the invisible hand of economic imperialism. Indeed, even as his family members were embracing him for the first time since that fateful day in 2003 when he was seized in an FBI sting operation in Thailand, governments and corporations throughout the Global North were sharpening their knives, preparing to reassert their dominance as they do at every year’s U.N. climate conference -- this one being COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.

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Clarence Lusane, The Decline of Democracy

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Phew! In the recent midterms, election deniers running nationwide for the post of secretary of state to oversee future elections not only lost across the board but did even worse than losers running for other state posts. And that’s certainly something to be thankful for.

Still, think about this: if I had mentioned the phrase “election denier” after the 2018 midterms, you wouldn’t have had the slightest idea what I was talking about. Now — can there be any question? — it’s part of the language and our political universe.  After all, there were almost 300 (yes, you read that right!) election deniers running for office in 2022. So, give Donald Trump credit. If he’s done nothing else — and he’s done all too much else — he’s certainly lodged that term in our brains and our politics for, assumedly, forever and a day.

In other words, you can be relieved that the Republicans wavered instead of (red) waving in the recent elections and only captured the House of Representatives by a relatively slim margin. Still, whatever happens with his latest bid for the White House, thanks to The Donald, there can be no question that we’re in a new, potentially far more ominous political world. Today, in his first TomDispatch piece, Clarence Lusane, author of the just-published book Twenty Dollars and Change: Harriet Tubman and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice and Democracy (next in line by my bedside for late night reading), considers just where, in the future, our former president might be taking us — or, put another way, how, win or lose personally, he intends to Trump us. There may be no more crucial question for this country than the one Lusane raises today. Yes, democracy does indeed seem to be on the decline, but is this really a prelude to a new all-American version of authoritarianism, or worse? Check him out and see what you think. Tom

Prelude to Authoritarianism?

The MAGAfication of America

Just in case you didn't notice, authoritarianism was on the ballot in the 2022 midterm elections. An unprecedented majority of candidates from one of the nation's two major political parties were committed to undemocratic policies and outcomes. You would have to go back to the Democratic Party-dominated segregationist South of the 1950s to find such a sweeping array of authoritarian proclivities in an American election. While voters did stop some of the highest-profile election deniers, conspiracy theorists, and pro-Trump true believers from taking office, all too many won seats at the congressional, state, and local levels.

Count on one thing: this movement isn't going away. It won't be defeated in a single election cycle and don't think the authoritarian threat isn't real either. After all, it now forms the basis for the politics of the Republican Party and so is targeting every facet of public life. No one committed to constitutional democracy should rest easy while the network of right-wing activists, funders, media, judges, and political leaders work so tirelessly to gain yet more power and implement a thoroughly undemocratic agenda.

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