Naomi Klein: how power profits from disaster

The long read: After a crisis, private contractors move in and suck up funding for work done badly, if at all then those billions get cut from government budgets. Like Grenfell Tower, Hurricane Katrina revealed a disdain for the poor

There have been times in my reporting from disaster zones when I have had the unsettling feeling that I was seeing not just a crisis in the here and now, but getting a glimpse of the future a preview of where the road we are all on is headed, unless we somehow grab the wheel and swerve. When I listen to Donald Trump speak, with his obvious relish in creating an atmosphere of chaos and destabilisation, I often think: Ive seen this before, in those strange moments when portals seemed to open up into our collective future.

One of those moments arrived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, as I watched hordes of private military contractors descend on the flooded city to find ways to profit from the disaster, even as thousands of the citys residents, abandoned by their government, were treated like dangerous criminals just for trying to survive.

I started to notice the same tactics in disaster zones around the world. I used the term shock doctrine to describe the brutal tactic of using the publics disorientation following a collective shock wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes or natural disasters to push through radical pro-corporate measures, often called shock therapy. Though Trump breaks the mould in some ways, his shock tactics do follow a script, and one that is familiar from other countries that have had rapid changes imposed under the cover of crisis.

This strategy has been a silent partner to the imposition of neoliberalism for more than 40 years. Shock tactics follow a clear pattern: wait for a crisis (or even, in some instances, as in Chile or Russia, help foment one), declare a moment of what is sometimes called extraordinary politics, suspend some or all democratic norms and then ram the corporate wishlist through as quickly as possible. The research showed that virtually any tumultuous situation, if framed with sufficient hysteria by political leaders, could serve this softening-up function. It could be an event as radical as a military coup, but the economic shock of a market or budget crisis would also do the trick. Amid hyperinflation or a banking collapse, for instance, the countrys governing elites were frequently able to sell a panicked population on the necessity for attacks on social protections, or enormous bailouts to prop up the financial private sector because the alternative, they claimed, was outright economic apocalypse.

The Republicans under Donald Trump are already seizing the atmosphere of constant crisis that surrounds this presidency to push through as many unpopular, pro-corporate policies. And we know they would move much further and faster given an even bigger external shock. We know this because senior members of Trumps team have been at the heart of some of the most egregious examples of the shock doctrine in recent memory.

Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, has built his career in large part around taking advantage of the profitability of war and instability. ExxonMobil profited more than any oil major from the increase in the price of oil that was the result of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It also directly exploited the Iraq war to defy US state department advice and make an exploration deal in Iraqi Kurdistan, a move that, because it sidelined Iraqs central government, could well have sparked a full-blown civil war, and certainly did contribute to internal conflict.

Rex
Rex Tillerson, now US secretary of state, is a former CEO of ExxonMobil. Photograph: Mike Stone/Reuters

As CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson profited from disaster in other ways as well. As an executive at the fossil fuel giant, he spent his career working for a company that, despite its own scientists research into the reality of human-caused climate change, decided to fund and spread misinformation and junk climate science. All the while, according to an LA Times investigation, ExxonMobil (both before and after Exxon and Mobil merged) worked diligently to figure out how to further profit from and protect itself against the very crisis on which it was casting doubt. It did so by exploring drilling in the Arctic (which was melting, thanks to climate change), redesigning a natural gas pipeline in the North Sea to accommodate rising sea levels and supercharged storms, and doing the same for a new rig off the coast of Nova Scotia.

At a public event in 2012, Tillerson acknowledged that climate change was happening but what he said next was revealing: as a species, humans have always adapted. So we will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around well adapt to that.

Hes quite right: humans do adapt when their land ceases to produce food. The way humans adapt is by moving. They leave their homes and look for places to live where they can feed themselves and their families. But, as Tillerson well knows, we do not live at a time when countries gladly open their borders to hungry and desperate people. In fact, he now works for a president who has painted refugees from Syria a country where drought was an accelerant of the tensions that led to civil war as Trojan horses for terrorism. A president who introduced a travel ban that has gone a long way towards barring Syrian migrants from entering the United States.

A president who has said about Syrian children seeking asylum, I can look in their faces and say: You cant come. A president who has not budged from that position even after he ordered missile strikes on Syria, supposedly moved by the horrifying impacts of a chemical weapon attack on Syrian children and beautiful babies. (But not moved enough to welcome them and their parents.) A president who has announced plans to turn the tracking, surveillance, incarceration and deportation of immigrants into a defining feature of his administration.

Waiting in the wings, biding their time, are plenty of other members of the Trump team who have deep skills in profiting from all of that.


Between election day and the end of Trumps first month in office, the stocks of the two largest private prison companies in the US, CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America) and the Geo Group, doubled, soaring by 140% and 98%, respectively. And why not? Just as Exxon learned to profit from climate change, these companies are part of the sprawling industry of private prisons, private security and private surveillance that sees wars and migration both very often linked to climate stresses as exciting and expanding market opportunities. In the US, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (Ice) incarcerates up to 34,000 immigrants thought to be in the country illegally on any given day, and 73% of them are held in private prisons. Little wonder, then, that these companies stocks soared on Trumps election. And soon they had even more reasons to celebrate: one of the first things Trumps new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, did was rescind the Obama administrations decision to move away from for-profit jails for the general prison population.

Trump appointed as deputy defence secretary Patrick Shanahan, a top executive at Boeing who, at one point, was responsible for selling costly hardware to the US military, including Apache and Chinook helicopters. He also oversaw Boeings ballistic missile defence programme a part of the operation that stands to profit enormously if international tensions continue to escalate under Trump.

And this is part of a much larger trend. As Lee Fang reported in the Intercept in March 2017, President Donald Trump has weaponised the revolving door by appointing defence contractors and lobbyists to key government positions as he seeks to rapidly expand the military budget and homeland security programmes At least 15 officials with financial ties to defence contractors have been either nominated or appointed so far.

The revolving door is nothing new, of course. Retired military brass reliably take up jobs and contracts with weapons companies. Whats new is the number of generals with lucrative ties to military contractors whom Trump has appointed to cabinet posts with the power to allocate funds including those stemming from his plan to increase spending on the military, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security by more than $80bn in just one year.

Contractors
Contractors for the US-based Blackwater private security firm in Iraq in 2005. Photograph: Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images

The other thing that has changed is the size of the Homeland Security and surveillance industry. This sector grew exponentially after the September 11 attacks, when the Bush administration announced it was embarking on a never-ending war on terror, and that everything that could be outsourced would be. New firms with tinted windows sprouted up like malevolent mushrooms around suburban Virginia, outside Washington DC, and existing ones, such as Booz Allen Hamilton, expanded into brand new territories. Writing in Slate in 2005, Daniel Gross captured the mood of what many called the security bubble: Homeland security may have just reached the stage that internet investing hit in 1997. Back then, all you needed to do was put an e in front of your company name and your IPO would rocket. Now you can do the same with fortress.

That means many of Trumps appointees come from firms that specialise in functions that, not so long ago, it would have been unthinkable to outsource. His National Security Council chief of staff, for instance, is retired Lt Gen Keith Kellogg. Among the many jobs Kellogg has had with security contractors since going private was one with Cubic Defense.

According to the company, he led our ground combat training business and focus[ed] on expanding the companys worldwide customer base. If you think combat training is something armies used to do all on their own, youd be right.

One noticeable thing about Trumps contractor appointees is how many of them come from firms that did not even exist before 9/11: L-1 Identity Solutions (specialising in biometrics), the Chertoff Group (founded by George W Bushs homeland security director Michael Chertoff), Palantir Technologies (a surveillance/big data firm cofounded by PayPal billionaire and Trump backer Peter Thiel), and many more. Security firms draw heavily on the military and intelligence wings of government for their staffing.

Under Trump, lobbyists and staffers from these firms are now migrating back to government, where they will very likely push for even more opportunities to monetise the hunt for people Trump likes to call bad hombres.

This creates a disastrous cocktail. Take a group of people who directly profit from ongoing war and then put those same people at the heart of government. Whos going to make the case for peace? Indeed, the idea that a war could ever definitively end seems a quaint relic of what during the Bush years was dismissed as preSeptember 11 thinking.


And then theres vice-president Mike Pence, seen by many as the grownup in Trumps messy room. Yet it is Pence, the former governor of Indiana, who actually has the most disturbing track record when it comes to bloody-minded exploitation of human suffering.

When Mike Pence was announced as Donald Trumps running mate, I thought to myself: I know that name, Ive seen it somewhere. And then I remembered. He was at the heart of one of the most shocking stories Ive ever covered: the disaster capitalism free-for-all that followed Katrina and the drowning of New Orleans. Mike Pences doings as a profiteer from human suffering are so appalling that they are worth exploring in a little more depth, since they tell us a great deal about what we can expect from this administration during times of heightened crisis.

Before we delve into Pences role, whats important to remember about Hurricane Katrina is that, though it is usually described as a natural disaster, there was nothing natural about the way it affected the city of New Orleans. When Katrina hit the coast of Mississippi in August 2005, it had been downgraded from a category 5 to a still-devastating category 3 hurricane. But by the time it made its way to New Orleans, it had lost most of its strength and been downgraded again, to a tropical storm.

Thats relevant, because a tropical storm should never have broken through New Orleanss flood defence. Katrina did break through, however, because the levees that protect the city did not hold. Why? We now know that despite repeated warnings about the risk, the army corps of engineers had allowed the levees to fall into a state of disrepair. That failure was the result of two main factors.

One was a specific disregard for the lives of poor black people, whose homes in the Lower Ninth Ward were left most vulnerable by the failure to fix the levees. This was part of a wider neglect of public infrastructure, which is the direct result of decades of neoliberal policy. Because when you systematically wage war on the very idea of the public sphere and the public good, of course the publicly owned bones of society roads, bridges, levees, water systems are going to slip into a state of such disrepair that it takes little to push them beyond the breaking point. When you massively cut taxes so that you dont have money to spend on much of anything besides the police and the military, this is what happens.

Mike
Vice-president Mike Pence with Donald Trump. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

It wasnt just the physical infrastructure that failed the city, and particularly its poorest residents, who are, as in so many US cities, overwhelmingly African American. The human systems of disaster response also failed the second great fracturing. The arm of the federal government that is tasked with responding to moments of national crisis such as this is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), with state and municipal governments also playing key roles in evacuation planning and response. All levels of government failed.

It took Fema five days to get water and food to people in New Orleans who had sought emergency shelter in the Superdome. The most harrowing images from that time were of people stranded on rooftops of homes and hospitals holding up signs that said HELP, watching the helicopters pass them by. People helped each other as best they could. They rescued each other in canoes and rowboats. They fed each other. They displayed that beautiful human capacity for solidarity that moments of crisis so often intensify. But at the official level, it was the complete opposite. Ill always remember the words of Curtis Muhammad, a longtime New Orleans civil rights organiser, who said this experience convinced us that we had no caretakers.

The way this abandonment played out was deeply unequal, and the divisions cleaved along lines of race and class. Many people were able to leave the city on their own they got into their cars, drove to a dry hotel, called their insurance brokers. Some people stayed because they believed the storm defences would hold. But a great many others stayed because they had no choice they didnt have a car, or were too infirm to drive, or simply didnt know what to do. Those are the people who needed a functioning system of evacuation and relief and they were out of luck.

Abandoned in the city without food or water, those in need did what anyone would do in those circumstances: they took provisions from local stores. Fox News and other media outlets seized on this to paint New Orleanss black residents as dangerous looters who would soon be coming to invade the dry, white parts of the city and surrounding suburbs and towns. Buildings were spray-painted with messages: Looters will be shot.

Checkpoints were set up to trap people in the flooded parts of town. On Danziger Bridge, police officers shot black residents on sight (five of the officers involved ultimately pleaded guilty, and the city came to a $13.3m settlement with the families in that case and two other similar post-Katrina cases). Meanwhile, gangs of armed white vigilantes prowled the streets looking, as one resident later put it in an expos by investigative journalist AC Thompson, for the opportunity to hunt black people.


I was in New Orleans during the flooding and I saw for myself how amped up the police and military were not to mention private security guards from companies such as Blackwater who were showing up fresh from Iraq. It felt very much like a war zone, with poor and black people in the crosshairs people whose only crime was trying to survive. By the time the National Guard arrived to organise a full evacuation of the city, it was done with a level of aggression and ruthlessness that was hard to fathom. Soldiers pointed machine guns at residents as they boarded buses, providing no information about where they were being taken. Children were often separated from their parents.

What I saw during the flooding shocked me. But what I saw in the aftermath of Katrina shocked me even more. With the city reeling, and with its residents dispersed across the country and unable to protect their own interests, a plan emerged to ram through a pro-corporate wishlist with maximum velocity. The famed free-market economist Milton Friedman, then 93 years old, wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal stating, Most New Orleans schools are in ruins, as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.

In a similar vein, Richard Baker, at that time a Republican congressman from Louisiana, declared, We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldnt do it, but God did. I was in an evacuation shelter near Baton Rouge when Baker made that statement. The people I spoke with were just floored by it. Imagine being forced to leave your home, having to sleep in a camping bed in some cavernous convention centre, and then finding out that the people who are supposed to represent you are claiming this was some sort of divine intervention God apparently really likes condo developments.

Baker got his cleanup of public housing. In the months after the storm, with New Orleanss residents and all their inconvenient opinions, rich culture and deep attachments out of the way, thousands of public housing units, many of which had sustained minimal storm damage because they were on high ground, were demolished. They were replaced with condos and town houses priced far out of reach for most who had lived there.

And this is where Mike Pence enters the story. At the time Katrina hit New Orleans, Pence was chairman of the powerful and highly ideological Republican Study Committee (RSC), a caucus of conservative lawmakers. On 13 September 2005 just 15 days after the levees were breached, and with parts of New Orleans still under water the RSC convened a fateful meeting at the offices of the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC. Under Pences leadership, the group came up with a list of Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices 32 pseudo-relief policies in all, each one straight out of the disaster capitalism playbook.

New
New Orleans residents wait on a rooftop to be rescued after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Photograph: Reuters

What stands out is the commitment to wage all-out war on labour standards and the public sphere which is bitterly ironic, because the failure of public infrastructure is what turned Katrina into a human catastrophe in the first place. Also notable is the determination to use any opportunity to strengthen the hand of the oil and gas industry. The list includes recommendations to suspend the obligation for federal contractors to pay a living wage; make the entire affected area a free-enterprise zone; and repeal or waive restrictive environmental regulations that hamper rebuilding. In other words, a war on the kind of red tape designed to keep communities safe from harm.

President Bush adopted many of the recommendations within the week, although, under pressure, he was eventually forced to reinstate the labour standards. Another recommendation called for giving parents vouchers to use at private and charter schools (for-profit schools subsidised with tax dollars), a move perfectly in line with the vision held by Trumps pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Within the year, the New Orleans school system became the most privatised in the US.

And there was more. Though climate scientists have directly linked the increased intensity of hurricanes to warming ocean temperatures, that didnt stop Pence and his committee from calling on Congress to repeal environmental regulations on the Gulf coast, give permission for new oil refineries in the US, and green-light drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Its a kind of madness. After all, these very measures are a surefire way to drive up greenhouse gas emissions, the major human contributor to climate change, which leads to fiercer storms. Yet they were immediately championed by Pence, and later adopted by Bush, under the guise of responding to a devastating hurricane.

Its worth pausing to tease out the implications of all of this. Hurricane Katrina turned into a catastrophe in New Orleans because of a combination of extremely heavy weather possibly linked to climate change and weak and neglected public infrastructure. The so-called solutions proposed by the group Pence headed at the time were the very things that would inevitably exacerbate climate change and weaken public infrastructure even further. He and his fellow free-market travellers were determined, it seems, to do the very things that are guaranteed to lead to more Katrinas in the future.

And now Mike Pence is in a position to bring this vision to the entire United States.


The oil industry wasnt the only one to profit from Hurricane Katrina. Immediately after the storm, the whole gang of contractors who had descended on Baghdad when war broke out Bechtel, Fluor, Halliburton, Blackwater, CH2M Hill and Parsons, infamous for its sloppy Iraq work now arrived in New Orleans. They had a singular vision: to prove that the kinds of privatised services they had been providing in Iraq and Afghanistan also had an ongoing domestic market and to collect no-bid contracts totalling $3.4bn.

The controversies were legion. Relevant experience often appeared to have nothing to do with how contracts were allocated. Take, for example, the company that Fema paid $5.2m to perform the crucial role of building a base camp for emergency workers in St Bernard Parish, a suburb of New Orleans. The camp construction fell behind schedule and was never completed. Under investigation, it emerged that the contractor, Lighthouse Disaster Relief, was in fact a religious group. About the closest thing I have done to this is just organise a youth camp with my church, confessed Lighthouses director, Pastor Gary Heldreth.

After all the layers of subcontractors had taken their cut, there was next to nothing left for the people doing the work. Author Mike Davis tracked the way Fema paid Shaw $175 per sq ft to install blue tarps on damaged roofs, even though the tarps themselves were provided by the government. Once all the subcontractors took their share, the workers who actually hammered in the tarps were paid as little as $2 per sq ft.

Every level of the contracting food chain, in other words, is grotesquely overfed except the bottom rung, Davis wrote, where the actual work is carried out. These supposed contractors were really like the Trump Organization hollow brands, sucking out profit and then slapping their name on cheap or non-existent services.

In order to offset the tens of billions going to private companies in contracts and tax breaks, in November 2005 the Republican-controlled Congress announced that it needed to cut $40bn from the federal budget. Among the programmes that were slashed: student loans, Medicaid and food stamps.

So, the poorest people in the US subsidised the contractor bonanza twice: first, when Katrina relief morphed into unregulated corporate handouts, providing neither decent jobs nor functional public services; and second, when the few programmes that assist the unemployed and working poor nationwide were gutted to pay those bloated bills.

New Orleans is the disaster capitalism blueprint designed by the current vice-president and by the Heritage Foundation, the hard-right think tank to which Trump has outsourced much of his administrations budgeting. Ultimately, the response to Katrina sparked an approval ratings freefall for George W Bush, a plunge that eventually lost the Republicans the presidency in 2008. Nine years later, with Republicans now in control of Congress and the White House, its not hard to imagine this test case for privatised disaster response being adopted on a national scale.

The presence of highly militarised police and armed private soldiers in New Orleans came as a surprise to many. Since then, the phenomenon has expanded exponentially, with local police forces across the country outfitted to the gills with military-grade gear, including tanks and drones, and private security companies frequently providing training and support. Given the array of private military and security contractors occupying key positions in the Trump administration, we can expect all of this to expand further with each new shock.

The Katrina experience also stands as a stark warning to those who are holding out hope for Trumps promised $1tn in infrastructure spending. That spending will fix some roads and bridges, and it will create jobs. Crucially, Trump has indicated that he plans to do as much as possible not through the public sector but through public-private partnerships which have a terrible track record for corruption, and may result in far lower wages than true public-works projects would. Given Trumps business record, and Pences role in the administration, there is every reason to fear that his big-ticket infrastructure spending could become a Katrina-like kleptocracy, a government of thieves, with the Mar-a-Lago set helping themselves to vast sums of taxpayer money.

New Orleans provides a harrowing picture of what we can expect when the next shock hits. But sadly, it is far from complete: there is much more that this administration might try to push through under cover of crisis. To become shock-resistant, we need to prepare for that, too.

Main photograph: AP Photo/Palm Beach Post/Gary Coronado.

This is an edited extract from No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics by Naomi Klein, published by Allen Lane at 12.99. To order a copy for 11.04, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/06/naomi-klein-how-power-profits-from-disaster

Scots economy in ‘precarious’ position, experts warn – BBC News

Image copyright AFP

Scotland’s economy is in a “precarious position” with a recession “in the balance”, experts have warned.

A report from the Fraser of Allander Institute said Scotland seemed to be “stuck in a cycle of weak growth”.

The Strathclyde University think-tank said that while growth is forecast to pick up in coming years, it is “likely to continue to lag behind the UK”.

Ministers insist that the fundamentals of the Scottish economy remain strong, highlighting Brexit as a key challenge.

Figures are due out at the start of July which will confirm whether or not the Scottish economy has formally gone into recession – defined as two consecutive quarters of falling output.

The Fraser of Allander Institute report said that “on balance it is likely to be a close run thing”.

It forecast growth at 1.2% for 2017 as a whole, 1.4% for 2018 and 1.6% for 2019.

‘Increasing concern’

The analysis includes some positive news – an apparent pick-up in business activity, unemployment at a record low and sectors like food and drink and tourism benefiting from the low value of the pound.

However, it also voices “increasing concern” about the slowdown apparently spreading across a wider set of industrial sectors.

It said political factors like Brexit “cast a shadow over the outlook”, but said that this and the downturn in the oil and gas sector could not be solely to blame. The report said that “Scotland’s economy seems to be stuck in a cycle of weak growth, declining confidence and poor investment and net export figures”.

Image caption Growth in Scotland has lagged behind that in the UK as a whole. Source: Scottish government

Fraser of Allander director Graeme Roy said the scale of the gap between the Scottish economy and that of the UK as a whole was growing.

He said: “On balance, our forecast is that growth will return in 2017, with tentative signs of a more positive outlook for Scotland’s oil and gas sector and improving order books across Scottish businesses.

“In the current climate sentiment can change quickly. Should the upcoming Brexit negotiations go badly, or the UK economy slows down more quickly than anticipated, then Scotland’s economic prospects could take a sharp turn for the worse.

“That being said, a number of sectors should post relatively healthy returns this year. In particular, Scotland’s food and drink and tourism sectors should benefit from the low value of Sterling.

‘Emerging confidence’

Economy Secretary Keith Brown said there was good news in the report, highlighting projected growth in the financial and business services, tourism and food and drink sectors.

He said: “This comes after good news for Scottish jobs. Scotland’s unemployment rate is at record low levels of 4% – equalling the previous all-time low – and is also at its lowest rate since the recession, and much lower than Fraser of Allander’s post-Brexit forecast of 7% for this year.

“And while challenges remain, the report also confirms emerging signs of confidence returning to the oil and gas sector, building on recent reports from Bank of Scotland and Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce.

“While these signs are encouraging, we must be clear that the biggest threat to Scotland’s economy continues to be Brexit – as this report makes clear.

“To avert the ‘Brexit negotiations going badly’, as the report states, the UK government must work with us and the other devolved administrations with the aim of keeping the UK and Scotland in the single market and customs union.”

Image caption Economy Secretary Keith Brown said Brexit was the biggest threat to Scotland’s economy

Opposition leaders said the report showed the Scottish government must do more to support the economy.

Scottish Conservative economy spokesman Dean Lockhart said: ‘”As this report states, whether or not Scotland officially enters recession hangs in the balance. And that’s while the rest of the UK powers ahead, so the SNP can’t possibly blame Brexit.

“This is on the Scottish government’s shoulders, and it has to explain what it is going to do to kick-start the economy it is in charge of.

“Make no mistake, Scotland has great potential. But that potential has been utterly neglected by an SNP government which has its priorities focused elsewhere.”

Labour’s economy spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said Scotland was “teetering on the brink of recession because Nicola Sturgeon has been more interested in running a campaign for a second independence referendum than running a government”.

She added: “Every time difficult figures for our economy are announced SNP ministers claim the fundamentals of our economy are strong. ministers must take their heads out of the sand and stop being complacent.

“With the new powers of the Scottish Parliament and the budget for public services more dependent on Scottish tax revenues than previously, we need a government with a laser focus on growing the economy and creating jobs.”

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-40434545

Kushner’s impossible task in the Middle East is the easy part

(CNN)Jared Kushner’s visit to Israel this week reflects an unexpected development in current Middle East politics.

It is not that Kushner’s chances for success are greater than those of a long list of special envoys, but rather that of all the problems in the region, it is the almost seven decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict that seems most amenable to US diplomacy.
This is because following what is universally referred to as the “Arab Spring,” major countries of the region have been plunged into instability, uncertainty, and violence that is well beyond Washington’s capacity to resolve.
    For many people across the region, the unfortunate fact is that life is worse than it was before they began pouring into the streets six years ago to demand freedom.
    Although support for Tunisia’s Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, and former Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi remains, people are for the most part pleased to be rid of them.
    Corruption, brutality, and violence marked the decades they were in power. But being happy that these dictators fell does not mean that people are better off.
    That is certainly not the case in Libya and two other failing or failed states in the Middle East, Yemen and Syria, where there were also uprisings in 2011. In Libya, not long after the uprising against his father began, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi warned that it would lead to “forty years” of violence.
    As the country has fragmented, rival armies, two different governments, and extremists have vied for control. Somewhere between 13,000 and 30,000 Libyans have lost their lives since 2011.

      Bassem Youssef: Egyptians are ‘upset’ and ‘tired’

    Syria is a vortex of violence. More than 400,000 people have been killed there since March 2011, when protests broke out against the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad. In addition to the staggering death toll, about half the population has been displaced in a conflict that now includes Russian, Iranian, Turkish, and US forces as well as a dizzying array of militias and extremist groups, including ISIS.
    If not for the Syrian war, the conflict in Yemen would likely be dominating world headlines. The country’s longtime ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was also deposed in 2011, though he was not prepared to give up power so easily. His hand is evident in the current conflict there, which began when Houthi tribesmen drove Saleh’s successor out of power.
    The fight has cost an estimated 10,000 lives in the region’s poorest country, where Yemenis now face starvation and a massive outbreak of cholera.
    What about the countries that have not slipped into civil war?
    Egypt has had a turbulent six years, with three leadership changes and the development of a violent extremist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula that has spilled over into the country’s population centers, often targeting the Christian minority.
    Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has undertaken some important economic reforms and Egypt’s macroeconomic indicators are starting to point in the right direction. But average Egyptians are suffering with high inflation, low employment, nonexistent services and little opportunity.
    These problems existed during the Mubarak era, too, but there was also a measure of stability that attracted 15 million tourists in 2010, large amounts of foreign direct investment, and a political environment that was more permissive than it is now.
    In a speech to the nation the day before he was deposed, Mubarak warned his fellow Egyptians that the uprising against him would, in the end, cause suffering. He was right.
    Tunisia is often billed as the one Arab Spring success story, and by all measures it has done better than the other countries that experienced uprisings. The country has a new constitution that establishes clear checks on executive power, has had free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections (though turnout was a problem), and has a strong civic culture that pulled the country back from the edge of violence in the summer of 2013.
    At the same time, Tunisia has a weak government, a large bureaucracy that has proven resistant to change, and an economy that has continuously struggled to produce growth, and jobs along with it.
    According to the World Bank, Tunisia’s real GDP growth rate in 2015 (the last year for which data are available) was 1%, current unemployment rate is 15%, and inflation is at 5%.
    All of this represents a significant hardship for average Tunisians, though their economic situation is not all that different from the year prior to the protests that dislodged Ben Ali.

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    When the uprisings began in late 2010 and early 2011, the romance of the barricades was infectious.
    The region that the New York Times once called “Democracy’s Desert” seemed to be in bloom, and with it was the widely held expectation that this Arab Spring would produce democracies.
    The result turned out to be something considerably different. Like the era before the uprisings, the “new Middle East” is still authoritarian, but it is also unstable. This does not bode well for Arabs, Turks, Europeans and Americans, because the current uncertainty, instability, and, at times, unspeakable violence of the region — which has occasionally spilled out across continents — is likely to be the future of the Middle East for the next several years.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/21/opinions/kushner-middle-east-opinion-cook/index.html

    Inside La Colombe d’Or, modern art’s home on the French Riviera

    Cannes, France (CNN)Walking around La Colombe d’Or, a casual eye places it among the many inns dotting the French Riviera. This Provencal auberge wears its rustic charm like a badge of honor, or perhaps armor, warding off the dull trappings of the 21st century.

    Whitewashed plasterwork, scratched and scuffed, evokes simpler times. The inn’s many nooks and crannies speak of a building that has lived, breathed and grown over the years, before settling into reassuring, unrefined normality.

      Discovering the Riviera’s hidden masterpieces

    Except there’s nothing normal about La Colombe d’Or. Look closer and artworks start to emerge: a Picasso nestled in one corner, a Matisse in another. In the courtyard outside, an Alexander Calder mobile rotates in the breeze while a Fernand Lger mosaic remains unmoved.
      Some of the greatest names in modern art, nonchalantly arranged to look not only as if they belong, but as if they were created here. The thing is, some of them were.
      “[The artworks are] completely part of the house, so we don’t think of it anymore,” says the inn’s third-generation owner Daniele Roux. “But you can’t touch them, because the alarm system is so strong.”
      Perhaps unsurprisingly, she won’t be drawn on La Colombe d’Or’s insurance value.

      Tea with Matisse

      The story of La Colombe d’Or (which translates as “The Golden Dove”) is of a family that played the long game. In 1931, farmer’s son Paul Roux and his wife Baptistine opened their restaurant in a secluded corner of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, a medieval hilltop village west of Nice.
      Its raison d’etre was bon vivance; good food and good times, a place to while away lazy summer days, eat heartily and drink well.
      With a handful of rooms above a bustling eatery, there was nothing remarkable about the inn’s setup. What no one could have anticipated was the clientele drawn to this crumbling bolthole and its unlikely role as a meeting place for the creative elite of the 20th century.

      “Portrait of a woman,” by Henri Matisse.

      World War I drove many French artists south, where they took up residence along the Cote d’Azur. When peacetime came, some stayed. Among them were Fernand Lger and Georges Braque, who Paul — a versed, if not schooled art admirer — befriended. Alongside them, an aging Henri Matisse.
      “He didn’t really come in because at the time he had problems with his legs,” says Paul’s granddaughter-in-law, Daniele. “Paul Roux would spend time with him in [Matisse’s] limousine,” on occasion taking tea.
      The artist became a regular at La Colombe d’Or, and others soon followed, either as diners or lodgers.

      Actor Yves Montand at the Colombe d’Or in front of a mosaic by Leger, commissioned in the 1950s.

      Paul Roux was the fulcrum around which these artistic figures pivoted, “an autodidact and a man of lovely enthusiasm who, having begun to buy paintings, did not hesitate to provide accommodation for certain painters in exchange for their work,” writes Martine Prosper (nee Buchet) in the 1995 book “La Colombe d’Or.”
      Paul Roux was admired and respected — a working class Peggy Guggenheim, thoroughly ingratiated with a community of modern artists without being a creative name in his own right. (Under the advice of Matisse, Roux did pick up a paintbrush in later life. His artworks now hang alongside those of his famous friends — one is to the left of the Miro in the main dining room.)
      The guests’ wildly different styles, modes and philosophies all found a home under Roux’s roof. Within La Colombe there was commonality and community. Indeed, a sign hung above the inn’s entrance read “Ici on lodge a cheval, a pied ou en peinture” — “Lodgings for man, horse and painters.”

      The friendship of Picasso

      With the arrival of World War II, life in La Colombe d’Or held a reassuringly even keel, even as both German and American officers both found their way into its guest book.
      In the post-war years its reputation was further enhanced. Joan Miro, Marc Chagall and Cesar Baldaccini all added to the inn’s growing art collection.
      Pablo Picasso was a regular visitor and became firm friends with Paul. But the Spanish master left no impression on La Colombe’s walls until shortly before Paul’s death in 1953.

      Spanish painter Pablo Picasso at the bar of La Colombe d’Or during the 1950s.

      “Paul was not well physically, and Tichin [his wife’s nickname] was a strong woman,” recalls Daniele. “She went round to see Picasso and said: ‘You promised you would give him a painting one day.'”
      He offered three paintings and Paul chose one. “Flower Vase” still has pride of place. On the day of Paul’s funeral, Picasso was the first to pay his respects.

      Post-modernists

      Paul’s son Francis took the reigns, but one night in 1959 — disaster. All the paintings were stolen; all except one, a Chagall. The artist came down the next day, most irked, Daniele says. Clearly the thieves had poor taste. (Word spread of the theft and all the paintings were soon returned.)
      By the ’60s a new set was frequenting the inn. Intellectuals Jean-Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir would stay, while James Baldwin’s fiery rhetoric could often be heard at the dining table. The American iconoclast even relocated to the region after staying at La Colombe in 1970, remaining in the area until his death in 1987.

      “The Thumb” by Cesar (1965).

      As with so many things on the Cote d’Azur, the inn was not untouched by the Cannes Film Festival. Stars of the “Nouvelle Vague”, Brigitte Bardot and director Francois Truffaut, spent days in the dappled shade of La Colombe’s courtyard, along with Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin and David Niven, while Roger Moore owned a house nearby. Its glamorous credentials were never in doubt — the kings of Sweden and Belgium, and Edward VIII (then Prince of Wales) all visited in the 1950s.
      Successive generations continue to pay pilgrimage.
      French literary titan Bernard-Henri Levy has written several of his books at La Colombe. Prosper and Martine Assouline, founders of their eponymous publishing company, based their first title on the inn, such was their adoration.

        Episode 14: The allure of French Riviera style

      Artworks continue to be added, most recently a giant ceramic apple by Irishman Sean Scully in 2007. New young names are scouted out by Daniele and Francois, though most works lie in storage. By and large, the painters have gone, and the region that inspired them has become a playground for people who buy masterpieces rather than those who paint them.
      But three generations in, there’s little sign this Provencal institution will cash out. A precedent was set by Paul Roux many years ago when a wealthy American tried to buy the business. He sent back a bouquet and a note: “These flowers are for you, La Colombe is for my son.”
      Daniele laughs at the mention of a fourth generation, batting away the question. “We have a son, we have a daughter, but we’re still here and we’re going to see what happens,” she says. There’s no pressure on them, she insists.
      If they one day accept the role, their charge will be to uphold an idiosyncratic space of art and life well lived — to find room, amid the modernist bricolage, for the next chapter of its story.

      Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/14/arts/la-colombe-dor-vence-art/index.html

      The Mummy review Tom Cruise returns in poorly bandaged corpse reviver

      Framed as more of a superhero origin movie than ancient curse mystery, a messy plot unravels fast

      Be afraid, for here it is again emerging waxily from the darkness. This disturbing figure must surely be thousands of years old by now, a princeling worshipped as a god but entombed in his own riches and status; remarkably well preserved. It is Tom Cruise, who is back to launch a big summer reboot of The Mummy, that classic chiller about the revived corpse from ancient Egypt, from which the tomb door was last prised off in a trilogy of films between 1999 and 2008 with the lantern-jawed and rather forgotten Brendan Fraser in the lead. And before that, of course, there were classic versions with Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee both variously getting the all-over St John Ambulance treatment.

      Traditionally, The Mummy is a scary movie (though un-serious) about taboo and transgression, based on the made-up pop myth about the mummys curse which has no basis in the history of ancient Egypt, but is a cheeky colonialist invention, which recasts local objection to our tomb-looting as something supernatural, malign and irrational.

      Yet that is not what this Mummy is about. It brings in the usual element of sub-Spielberg gung-ho capers, but essentially sees The Mummy as a superhero origin movie; or possibly supervillain; or Batmanishly both. The supporting characters are clearly there to be brought back as superhero-repertory characters for any putative Mummy franchise, including one who may well be inspired by Two-Face from The Dark Knight.

      Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jun/07/the-mummy-review-tom-cruise

      Portland’s dark history of white supremacy

      The city is known for its liberalism. But a racially charged double murder sheds light on an enduring current of militant racism

      Ciaran Mulloy remembers how the neo-Nazis outnumbered the anti-racists in Portland in the 90s.

      A union organiser and anti-fascist, he was was deeply involved in fighting against the far rights infiltration of American youth culture in the 1980s and 90s. But when he arrived in the city in 1990, he said, we were not prepared for what was out there in Portland.

      There were multiple gangs, and 300 Nazis in a city of 300,000, he said, adding: The anti-racist youth were intimidated and isolated. The Nazis were just openly hanging out on the streets.

      Drawn to the overwhelmingly white population, Nazis brought violence to clubs, shows, and the streets, carried out gay bashings, and assaulted people of color.

      Two years before Mulloys arrival, three racist skinheads beat Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian student, to death in a suburban street. And in 1993, a racist skinhead named Eric Banks was shot dead by John Bair, a member of Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.

      Its not hyperbolic to call it a war, he said. There was intense fighting. The racially charged double murder on a Portland train last week may seem at odds with the citys current image, and self-perception, as liberal. But actually, the history of Portland, and of Oregon, reveals an enduring current of white supremacy and militant racism, experts say, that is apparent in the far and recent past.

      Nearly two centuries of exclusion, violence and intimidation have resulted in the whitest major city in the United States, in a state that has in the past been fertile ground for the growth of extremism. Last Fridays violent attack came amid a new wave of alt-right organizing, but Portlands very whiteness has attracted far right groups to attempt to make inroads in the city for more than 30 years.

      Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/31/portland-white-supremacy-racism-train-stabbing-murder

      23 Million Fewer People Would Have Coverage Under Obamacare Repeal Bill, CBO Confirms

      Twenty-three million fewer Americans would have insurance under legislation that House Republicans narrowly passed last month, the Congressional Budget Office reported on Wednesday.

      The CBO also predicted that the deficit would come down by $119 billion over the next decade and that premiums for people buying insurance on their own would generally be lower for younger consumers and higher for older and sicker people than those premiums would be if the Affordable Care Act stays in place.

      But the reasons why health insurance would be less expensive for some arent much to cheer about, the budget report makes clear. Prices would come down for healthy people because those who are sick or have illness in their medical histories would have less access to coverage and the policies available on the market would tend to be a lot less comprehensive.

      In other words, the price for lower premiums would be some combination of higher out-of-pocket costs, fewer covered services, and coverage that would be harder to get for the people who need it most.

      Insurance, on average, would pay for a smaller proportion of health care costs, the CBO report says. The budget office even predicts that several million people will opt to use the bills new tax credits to buy plans so bare-boned that they dont even qualify as health insurance.

      The American Health Care Act the House bill to repeal most of Obamacare would take away $1.1 trillion from programs that help people get covered, including $834 billion in cuts to Medicaid, over the course of a decade.

      The result would be 51 million Americans without health insurance by 2026, compared with 28 million under current law. The House-passed bill would effectively reverse all of the Affordable Care Acts coverage expansion, which pushed the uninsured rate to a historic low.

      Coverage losses would begin soon, with 14 million more uninsured next year, 19 million more by 2020 and 23 million more by 2026, the report finds. The largest share of the lower coverage numbers would come from the 14 million fewer low-income people who qualify for Medicaid. The rise in the uninsured would fall hardest on low-income people aged 50 to 64, the CBO projected.

      Health insurance premiums for young adults generally would come down, in part because policies would be less comprehensive. A 21-year-old could buy an unsubsidized policy for as little as $3,700 a year under the House bill, compared to $5,100 under the Affordable Care Act.

      But the other side of that ledger reveals significantly higher costs for older people. A 64-year-olds annual unsubsidized premium would rise from $15,300 to as much as $21,000.

      Wednesdays assessment of the American Health Care Act is relatively similar to the evaluations the budget office issued previously, when it studied earlier versions of the legislation.

      In late April, House leaders rushed to vote on the bill less than 24 hours after making significant modifications, without waiting for the budget office to study how those changes to Obamacare might affect insurance coverage or the federal deficit.

      One of those changes would have allow states to waive a rule that prohibits insurers from charging higher premiums to people at greater risk of medical problems. Without that rule in place, insurers could jack up rates for people with pre-existing conditions, effectively making standard coverage unavailable and violating a key promise to guarantee insurance for everybody regardless of medical status, which most Republicans had endorsed.

      In March, the House had failed to bring an earlier version of the legislation to the floor for a vote, embarrassing Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and President Donald Trump, who were unable to pull together factions within the House Republican Conference. After that, conservatives from the House Freedom Caucus and more moderate lawmakers led by Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) negotiated a deal that enabled Republican leaders to cobble together just enough votes to pass the bill in the lower chamber. Trump held a celebration at the White House afterward.

      The new language placated conservatives, who wanted to repeal more of the Affordable Care Acts consumer protections, and some moderates, who expressed concern about major coverage losses and about harming people with pre-existing conditions and who won additional funds meant to mitigate those problems.

      Based on the CBO score, the moderates didnt actually get what they wanted.

      The House-passed legislation would reduce the number of people with health coverage by just 1 million fewer than the earlier legislation.

      And the bills ballyhooed waivers for states that want to curtail the Affordable Care Acts guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions is the main reason that the CBO projected older and sicker people would have a harder time obtaining coverage. The money that moderate Republicans won to protect these people would help some but would be inadequate to maintain current levels of coverage and benefits, the budget office concluded.

      Based mostly on states pre-Obamacare insurance regulations, the CBO made assumptions about how many would obtain those waivers. The report does not name the states.

      One-sixth of Americans reside in states that would likely aggressively deregulate their insurance markets, allowing health insurers to charge higher rates to people with pre-existing conditions who experience a gap in coverage say,from a job loss that lasted more than 63 days. These states also are expected to seek waivers that would eliminate requirements to cover any type of medical care like prescriptions and would add annual and lifetime caps on coverage, according to the budget analysis.

      Those state insurance markets would begin to destabilize for people with pre-existing conditions in 2020, the CBO predicted. People whose health status would pass muster with insurers would have access to less costly coverage than today, but those who were ill or had past health problems would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive nongroup health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all, the report says.

      About one-third of Americans live states that would likely make more modest changes to their insurance rules, such as excluding a few specific benefits that are mandatory under Obamacare or allowing insurers to charge consumers extra for riders to cover those benefits. A maternity coverage rider, for example, might increase premiums by more than $1,000 a month, the CBO estimated. Overall, prices in these states would be lower for younger people than for older ones. Policies in general would require more out-of-pocket spending on things like deductibles and copayments, and the cost of uncovered services would be borne entirely by patients.

      For the remaining half of Americans, their states would be expected to retain most of the Affordable Care Acts insurance guarantees for people with pre-existing conditions and its required benefits, like hospitalizations, prescription drugs and maternity care. In those markets, premiums would come down for younger consumers and rise for older ones.

      Theres no magic behind the bills effects on the budget deficit. The House approved a measure that would slash federal support for low- and middle-income families to obtain health coverage. Most of the money saved by cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid and hundreds of billions more from financial assistance for those buying private health insurance would be transferred to wealthy households and health care companies in the form of tax cuts, with only a small amount left over for deficit reduction.

      The Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obamas signature domestic policy achievement, provides tax credits for private insurance and expanded the Medicaid program, which offers government-sponsored insurance to low-income people.

      The Affordable Care Act has also prohibited insurance practices like placing annual or lifetime limits on benefits that made it difficult for people with the most serious medical problems to pay their bills. And, crucially, the law includes an outright prohibition against insurers rejecting people with pre-existing conditions or charging them higher rates than healthy people.

      But to finance the coverage expansion, the law raised taxes, predominantly on health care companies and the very wealthy. It also forced some people, particularly those whose relatively good health once gave them access to cheap coverage, to pay substantially higher premiums.

      Some of these people have decided not to get insurance altogether, making it harder for insurers to balance their books to the point where many insurers have raised rates considerably or abandoned some local markets entirely. Nevertheless, the new CBO analysis projects that most of these markets would remain stable over time under current law.

      Democrats have generally called for bolstering the Affordable Care Act by making tax credits more generous, for example, or using government bargaining power to drive down drug prices while leaving in place the expansions of Medicaid and all the new insurance rules.

      Republicans, by contrast, have sought to weaken or eliminate those rules and to ratchet back spending on tax credits and Medicaid all while rolling back Obamacares taxes, giving relief to the corporations and wealthy people who pay them.

      The House bill would do that, and now its up to the Senateto consider, modify or rewrite that legislation. Even before the House bill passed, a number of Senate Republicans were raising objections about the number of people who might lose coverage as a result. Nevertheless, the Senate GOP is on track to put together legislation of their own that would massively cut back the Medicaid program and provide far less help for those who buy private insurance.

      Republicans face a backlash from some voters for undoing the Affordable Care Acts most popular provisions, and the bill violates Trumps oft-stated promise that he would replace the law with something better that covered everyone with lower premiums and lower out-of-pocket costs.

      But Republicans also fear the wrath of their core supporters, who strongly support the GOP keeping its years-old vow to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

      Republican leaders in the Senate have said they hope to vote on a bill before adjourning for the August recess.

      Just over one-quarter of Americans say they support the House-passed bill, according to aHuffPost/YouGov pollpublished Wednesday. Forty-four percent oppose it, while 31 percent said they were unsure. Views of the Affordable Care Act remain almost evenly divided, but 42 percent said the Republican bill would be worse,while only 23 percent said it would be an improvement.

      This article has been updated with additional details, including from the Congressional Budget Office report and the findings of a HuffPost/YouGov survey.

      CORRECTION: The CBO predicted that under the House-passed bill, there would be 23 million additional uninsured Americans by 2026, not 2016.

      Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/gop-health-care-bill-congressional-budget-office_us_5924e896e4b00c8df29feb68

      Jordan Trail: A trek through history via ancient villages and wild wadis

      (CNN)Picture the Appalachian Trail in California, or the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

      That’s the Jordan Trail, and only a slice of it.
      The 650-kilometer trail takes about 40 days to complete, starting at the northern tip of Jordan in the city of Umm Qais and ending in Aqaba in the south, where hikers meet the country’s only coastline.
        Jordan is more than just desert, and the cross-section of the nation that the Jordan Trail cuts through is a tour de force in diversity.

        ‘Unique experience’

        Hikers move through four ecosystems, defined by lush and fertile valleys in the north, then on to rugged canyons along the Dead Sea, waterfalls and hot springs in the semi-arid central regions, and finally towards the famed Wadi Rum desert in the south.
        The trail takes old Roman and Ottoman roads through Petra, the Nabatean city that is as famed as it is mystical, and which dates back to about 300 BC. Today, it’s the postcard picture of Jordan.
        Officially opened in February 2017, the Jordan Trail is being billed as a new tourism initiative pegged on inclusivity. The route features 52 local villages, which hikers use as points of lodging, providing business opportunities for towns newly introduced to the tourism trade.
        Trekker Olivia Mason, 25, from Glasgow, Scotland — among the trail’s first hikers — says the route opens up new experiences.
        “We stayed with one family in Khirbet Al Souq and we were only their second guests,” she tells CNN.
        “They gave us their whole house to sleep in and moved in with relatives nearby. We talked with the family about their lives and the area, and in the morning we watched the children go to school in their uniforms. It is these encounters that make the trail a really unique way to experience Jordan.”

        New tourism

        Often classified as an adventure trail, the tour is more suitable for those in strong physical condition, but is still open to a large range of hikers.
        Mahmoud Bdoul, one of the guides along the Jordan Trail, has been taking tourists through Petra for 10 years, and says the trail offers a great escape from the trappings of modernity.
        “When you complete the trail and arrive in Aqaba, you realize the noise of cars has been absent from your life for a month,” Mahmoud said last year after doing the first technical walk-through for the hike.

        Mahmoud was born in a cave in Petra and his Bedouin upbringing introduced him to the peace of the desert at an early age.
        “I spent two years living in the cave where I was born until 1985 when Petra became a UNESCO heritage site,” he says. “The government made an agreement with my Bedouin clan and we moved out of the caves to a new village built on the north side of Petra.”
        Mahmoud’s village became one of the first beneficiaries of the tourism trade in Jordan.
        “The people in my village, as traditional Bedouins, used to depend on goat-herding and growing agricultural crops, such as parsley, wheat and olives,” he adds.
        As a student of sustainable tourism, Mahmoud believes the most vivid memories hikers will take away will be of the people they meet.
        “Visitors will be surprised with the hospitality of Jordanians,” says Mahmoud. “The trail really lets the trekkers enjoy dealing directly with locals in their Jordanian environment, seeing them in their villages and experiencing their daily lives.”
        As Mason completes one of the first publicly open walk-throughs of the trail, she’s living the experience first-hand.
        “There is so much history throughout the trail, of course including Petra, but also sites such as Ajloun Castle, Karak Castle and Iraq Al Amir,” she says.
        “But the culture, too, shines, whether through the homestays where local food is always eaten or people that always welcome you into their home.
        “Everyone always says that if you stopped for everyone who offered a cup of tea on the trail, you’d never finish.”

        Jordan Trail highlights

        Um Qais
        This northernmost point of the Jordan Trail sets hikers off into a panorama that isn’t often associated with the country, let alone the Middle East.
        Verdant forests filled with the sounds of birds and farm animals greet your early footsteps along the route.
        The northeast corner of the nation is where most of the country’s population is located and there are lots of villages along the way, as well as Bedouin herders who mush their goats and sheep with authority.
        This region is truly the most representative of the overall Jordanian population, yet the least known to foreigners.
        Wadi Mujib
        This wadi — the Arabic word for valley — cuts through a central section of the Three Wadis region and opens up on to the Dead Sea.
        The area is a designated reserve, and contains a number of migratory bird species that are popular among bird-spotters.
        During the spring and summer seasons, Wadi Mujib’s canyons fill with water, creating mild rapids you can float down.
        Wadi Hasa
        In south-central Jordan, hikers pass through Wadi Hasa, an area filled with limestone waterfalls and babbling brooks.
        The water from these rivers is used by local farmers, who can be seen growing a host of vegetables, including tomatoes and melons.
        Wadi Hasa also has historical value. The valley, known in Hebrew as Zered, is mentioned in the Torah and the Old Testament, especially the books of Deuteronomy and Numbers, as the place where the Israelites camped on their final approach to Moab.
        Petra and Wadi Rum
        The crown jewels of Jordan’s tourism industry, Petra and Wadi Rum are the highlight of Jordan’s southern desert heartland.
        Here, geology is a natural form of art that shows off its dazzling skills in swirls of sandstone painted in russet palettes on rocks.
        Homestays in Jordan have traditionally been most popular here, where visitors can camp out with Bedouins and ride camels across the mountainous desert of Wadi Rum, living out their own personal reenactment of “Lawrence of Arabia” (which was also filmed here).

        Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/17/travel/jordan-trail-trekking-highlights/index.html

        Can this slow dating app work in our modern, fast-swipe era?

        Image: appetence / mashable composite 

        Speed is of the essence in our modern age of fast-swipe online dating. So much so that the process of swiping, matching, and chatting can feel like a race to to that great (or not so great, depending) finish line we call a date.

        But a brand new dating app wants people to take things slow real slow, in fact using the ancient art of conversation to seduce matches. It’s pretty groundbreaking stuff for those getting by with the odd “DTF?” message on Tinder.

        Appetence, which is free to download on iOS from the iTunes store and claims to be the world’s first “slow dating” app, forces users to talk to each other before they can see each other’s profile pictures.

        How so? Upon downloading the app, users are asked to select a bunch of their interests and tastes relating to music, gastronomy, movies, TV, books, and even pets. The app’s “slow matchmaking” algorithm then shows you compatible profiles based on your interests and search settings.

        Unlike Tinder, Bumble, and basically every other dating app out there, the app won’t just show you photos of your match. You have to earn that privilege by talking to them. When you first start conversing with your match, your profile photo appears entirely covered by a pattern.

        Image: rachel thompson / mashable

        Image: rachel thompson / mashable

        As you chat with your match you have the opportunity to like the messages or “encounters” they send you. The more you like, the more pieces of your profile photo are revealed. But it’s not easy. Your match needs 50 likes in order to see your full profile photo. And you, in return, need 50 likes to see theirs. Which means you’ll both need to have some serious banter.

        This slow approach to dating is certainly novel in a world where speedy swipes are based largely on profile photos, and you can kind of see the point: “Unfortunately, our society today promotes relationships with increasingly fragile ties. ‘Fast Dating’ has made many women and men tired of not feeling special,” says Appetence founder Camilla Forsell.

        “The conversations have become monotonous and similar, and having a ‘Match’ is no longer as exciting as the first few times,” Forsell continues, adding that she wants people to “seduce” one another using just “their way with words.” Hmmm.

        But, the real question is: Do people really have the time and patience to invest in a protracted conversation with someone you might not actually fancy? In the age of fast swiping, most of us just want to get in and get out of dating apps as soon as possible. And for most of us, actually seeing someone is part of that equation.

        Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/10/slow-dating-app-appetence/

        How much would fictional houses cost in real life?

        (CNN)From Great Gatsby’s luxury estate to Count Dracula’s Transylvanian lair and Amelie Poulain’s tiny Parisian pad, the houses in which our favorite fictional characters reside are often inspired by real-life properties.

        CNN tracked down some of literary and cinematographic history’s most famous post codes and calculated their value in today’s property markets. Use the slider tool to reveal their prices.

        The Great Gatsby (1925), F. Scott Fitzgerald

          Great Gatsby’s home in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novelis a symbol of1920s wealth in America.
          “In his blue garden men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars,” the narrator says of Gatsby’s buzzing property.
          One of the properties thought to have inspired Fitzgerald — and director Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film adaptation, the source of the image above — is the Beacon Towers in Great Neck, Long Island, near where the author lived between 1922 and 1924, and wrote the first three chapters of the novel.
          Demolished in 1945, the Gothic building had belonged to suffragette and architectural designer Alva Belmont, who threw opulent parties for the city’s elite.
          All this history combined with literary fame, would have further upped the mansion’s price today, says associate broker Maggie Keats of Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

          Master and Margarita (1967), Mikhail Bulgakov

          The famous, morbid ball scene in Bulgakov’s novel was partly inspired by wild parties held at the Spaso House, the US ambassador to Russia’s residence since 1933.
          Bulgakov and his wife attended one such revelry in 1935, where live pheasants, baby bears, goats and roosters mingled with guests in smoking jackets and ball dresses.
          According to Savills global real-estate agent, the value of the Spaso House today puts it in the top 5% of Moscow’s real estate.
          Despite this, the US government paid $3 per year between 1990 and 2004 to rent the building — this fixed price was set by a Soviet-era contract, which devalued after the collapse of the USSR. The rent has since changed but is a secret.

          Sherlock Holmes,Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

          When Conan Doyle wrote his detective series, the real Baker Street in London stopped in the 100s — 221B didn’t exist.
          When the street was renumbered in the 1930s, the Abbey National Building Society bank was assigned the notorious number 221.
          The bank received so many letters addressing the famous detective that it hired a secretary to respond to the queries.
          A dispute over whether the Sherlock Holmes Museum — located at 239 Baker Street, and opened in 1990 — or the bank should receive such letters was resolved in 2002, when the bank left the building.
          The Holmes Museum, which emulates the detective’s home, is technically located between 237 and 241 Baker Streetalthough special permission from the City of Westminster allowed it to list its addressas 221b.
          The property’s current exorbitant price tag may have proved challenging even for the celebrity detective, due to the explosion of London’s property market over the past 20 years.

          Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren

          The nine-year-old Swedish children’s book heroine Pippi lives in Villa Villekulla with a monkey, Mr Nilsson, and a horse who is usually found on the porch. One of the house’s main treasures is the tree that grows Swedish soda water.
          The house pictured above, built for the 1969 Swedish TV series based on Lindgren’s books, is now the Pippi Longstocking Museum located at the heart of an attraction parkin the small town of Kneippbyn on Sweden’s Gotland Island.

          In the Mood For Love (2000), Wong Kar-wai

          The two small flats where this movie plays out shape the plot and atmosphere of this classic romance, as neighbors Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen learn that their spouses are having an affair.
          The typically cramped Hong Kong properties reflect the characters’ lack of privacy — they are constantly spied upon by other neighbors and their landlords — and are a catalyst for them falling in love.
          But there is also a political context. By the early 1960s — the era depicted in the film — thousands of Shanghai exiles had moved to Hong Kong, especially to the North Point neighborhood.
          Many of them were wealthy business people (like Su’s husband) and intellectuals (such as Chow), and expecting their move to be temporary they led a separate life to locals, which explains the characters’ sense of alienation.
          Engel & Vlkers estimated the value based on the cost of an average 861-square-foot (80sqm)flat in a traditional walk-up in North Point, Hong Kong.

          One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), Gabriel Garca Mrquez

          The house in which generations of the Buenda family live, love and die in the fictional village of Macondo was inspired by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s grandparents’ home in Aracataca, Colombia, where the author grew up.
          “Neither my mother nor I, of course, could even have imagined that this simple two-day trip (to sell my grandparents’ house) would be so decisive that the longest and most diligent of lives would not be enough for me to finish recounting it,” Marquez wrote about his trip to the house as a young man in his autobiography “Living to Tell the Tale”.
          Based on Marquez’s writings, Colombia’s Ministry of Culture in 2010 spent $350,000 reconstructing the house — which had been demolished — and opened it as a museum in the author’s name.

          Dracula (1897), Bram Stoker

          The Bran Castle in Brasov, which is now owned by the Romanian royal family, is generally associated with the famous vampire Dracula, and consequently receives 800,000 visitors a year.
          But there isn’t any historical evidence to support the myth around Bran. Built in the early 13th century by the Teutonic knights, the castle has no concrete link to Vlad Tepes — the Wallachian medieval king who inspired Stoker’s vampire. While Tepes ordered the killing of many Saxons in Brasov, it is not known if he ever stepped foot in the castle.
          Nevertheless, Forbes magazine deemed the property to be the most expensive European home in 2007.
          Romanian real estate agents Transylvanian Properties used that figure to make their estimate, taking into account subsequent renovations and extensions.

          Amlie, (2001), Jean-Pierre Jeunet

          This film’s whimsical depiction of contemporary Parisian life revolves around Amlie Poulain, a shy waitress who lives in a tiny Montmartre flat.
          With its crimson walls, replica Renaissance paintings, and pig-shaped bedside table lamp, the flat reflects Amlie’s cheekiness and charm.
          The neighborhood is part of the 18th arrondissement, in north Paris, near the Sacre-Coeur basilica, the Moulin Rouge cabaret and a Dali museum. Montmartre became famous as an artists’ hub, where the likes of Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh lived, attracted by the cheap rents.
          But this is not the case anymore — the general increase in property prices across Paris, as well as tourism and the municipal renovations in the area, led to a 260% increase in property prices from 2000 to 2016, according to MeilleursAgents.
          Amlie set locations are part ofthe tourists’ route, and the film might have played a role in the neighborhood’s property price rise.

          Out of Africa (1937), Karen Blixen

          In her memoir, Danish author Blixen described in detail the Nairobi farmhouse in which she lived from 1917 until 1931 — a description which later informed the 1985 film of the same name starring Meryl Streep.
          After Blixen’s return to Europe, the house had multiple owners until in 1964 the Danish government bought it and gave it to the Kenyan government as an independence gift.
          Initially, the government used the building as a college principal’s home, but it opened it as a museum in 1986, after the success of “Out of Africa” the movie.
          The film, however, was shot in a different house in Kenya, which had previously belonged to Ngina Kenyatta, the widow of the east African country’s first President Jomo Kenyatta.

          And one that really is fictional…

          Hogwarts is the center of the Harry Potter world. Built in the Scottish Highlands in 993 AD, according to JK Rowling’s texts, this old ruined castle features 142 staircases, ample towers, turrets and forests, as well as a quidditch field and lake.
          The Harry Potter films usedseveral locations in England to recreate the magic of Hogwarts, including the banquet hall at Christ Collegeand the Bodleian Library in Oxford, Gloucester Cathedral and Alnwick Castle in Northumberland.
          Because of this, CNN asked a real estate expert to estimate the approximate value of thefictional building only, excluding fields and forests, and assuming it were located in the Scottish Highlands.

          Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/26/architecture/famous-fictional-houses-one-square-meter/index.html