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Obama’s Success Has Driven Republicans Out Of Their Minds

On the day that Donald Trump finally acknowledge that President Obama was born in the United States and that the GOP nominee can’t win without declaring “victory” and attempting to terminally muddy the waters on the issue that made him a conservative hero, the president’s approval hit 54 percent in the Gallup daily tracking poll.

For some perspective, Ronald Reagan was at 53 percent in early September 1988, according to Gallup. And in early September of 2008, George W. Bush was at 31 percent — a number that would only be impressive if it were first two digits of a shortstop’s batting average.

These numbers matter not because a contemporary approval rating is the final verdict on the tenure of a president or the achievement of any individual. Gallup’s last measure of Martin Luther King Jr.’s popularity in 1966 had him at 32 percent approval, closer to W. Bush than to Obama. Opposing the Vietnam War and launching the Poor People’s Campaign made Dr. King a prophet reviled by many in his own time, not a savvy politician.

However, this measure of Obama’s popularity, which is at heights not seen since the years following his two electoral college landslides, gives us a nation’s sense of the president’s effectiveness after nearly eight years. And it suggests he benefits from some perspective provided by the candidates who may replace him.

Almost no honest person thinks President Obama would be denied a third term in November were he permitted to run. Yet Republicans continue to act as if he’s a drowning failure like George W. Bush, tied to an anchor made of a cartoon Jimmy Carter and an even more corrupt Richard Nixon.

It isn’t just Obama’s approval ratings to prove the lie in that delusion.

A U.S. Census report found that middle class incomes rose at the fastest rate ever recorded in 2015 as poverty fell — one year after Obamacare went into full effect and two years after we raised taxes on the rich, two Obama policies Republicans assured us would destroy the economy. The last seven years haven’t been perfect, the gains of 2015 are still digging us out of the mess the last Republican president left us with, just as our foreign policy is an endless attempt to deal with the hell Bush and Cheney unleashed in the Middle East.

But when it comes to steering us from a depression, launching a green energy revolution, expanding LGBTQ rights, insuring 20 million and uniting the world in an effort to fight climate change, President Obama’s legacy must be ranked with the most consequential presidents of the last century, especially if the gains he inspired are not reversed.

But Republicans seem intent on doing just that — deregulating Wall Street, un-insuring millions, bending the tax code back toward the rich, empowering those who’d discriminate against same-sex couples or the sick and unleashing carbon polluters. And Obama’s success only seems to make them more determined to do all of this as soon as possible.

It would be easy just to blame the billionaire funders behind the party for engineering an agenda that only benefits them. But the hatred they’ve sewed within their party, with decades of highly effective marketing that has created an self-sustaining media often infused with the coded racism of dog whistle politics, has fostered a monster that threatens the mad scientists who built the laboratory that gave him life.

By nominating the birther-est birther who ever birthed, the GOP revealed that was seeking a nominee who not only disagreed with President Obama but reviled him and considered him less than an American. But the party’s depravity was even more evident during the GOP primary when not one of his opponent called out the racism behind Trump’s birther campaign, which lasted well after President Obama’s long-form birth certificate was revealed.

Hatred of Obama is so strong that Republicans are joining in Trump’s sick assertion that Vladimir Putin — who has gutted democracy and the economy in Russia — had been a better leader for his people than President Obama.

When conservative anti-Obama/Clinton agitpropper Dinesh D’Souza expressed his admiration for Putin’s love for his country, several Twitter users noted that if Obama loved America enough to deal with critics the way Putin does, D’Souza would be dead.

Unwilling to back off his dictator worship, D’Souza noted that famed chess master and Putin critic Garry Kasparov is still alive.

Kasparov’s response?

Trump’s lying attempt to pin birtherism on the Clinton campaign, his insinuation that Clinton should face death because she supports gun safety legislation and his argument that black people are a unitary blob of impoverished fools who’ve been tricked by the Democratic Party are all common tropes in the comment sections of Republican blogs. But now this hateful propaganda has passed up through the articles into the mouth of the party’s nominee for president. The party has become the people it used to hide.

This isn’t to say Republicans aren’t torn.

A small but vocal group of conservatives think that Trump is a terrible racist. But they’re a tiny minority compared the the vast majority of the party who think he’s a wonderful racist. And even those who oppose Trump with all their being are willing to take the logical step to support the only candidate who can beat them. The hatred of Democrats is so ingrained that they’d rather elect a man who they don’t trust with access to nuclear weapons.

There’s some horrible justice to the GOP’s flaming hatred of Obama becoming the inferno that could destroy the party.

They could have embraced the changes America is going through. Instead they waged a war on voting like we haven’t seen since the 1960s. They could have acknowledged the mistakes of economy built to drive heath to the top. Instead they nominated the personification of welfare for the rich. They could have passed bipartisan immigration reform. Instead they walled themselves into a obsession with deportations.

Either Republicans are about to be rewarded for stirring up hatred at immigrants, refugees and vague foreign interests of all sorts, the way Republican Pete Wilson won an easy reelection in 1994 by stoking similar fires, or they’re exacerbating the demographic trends that could eventually deny them the White House forever.

Either way, they invited into our politics an existential threat — one that could consume just the GOP, or all of us.

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 46th annual Legislative Conference Phoenix Awards Dinner in Washington, September 17, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Our Poisonous Partisan Politics

A recent study from the Pew Research Center shows that contempt across the partisan divide is bitter and widespread. Respondents displayed a nasty animosity for the opposing side and showed little sign of tolerance for conflicting views.

Party polarization has been underway for years, and the Congress has never been so divided. But the toxic, finger-pointing rabble has escaped like a demon from Capitol Hill and spread plague-like throughout the United States. The toxicity doesn’t stifle, it chokes. Discourse has become nearly impossible. Wherever one stands, the other side is no longer judged as merely wrong or misguided, but is now considered dangerously stupid and lazy; scary, dishonest, immoral, and more than anything, a threat.

In 2014, a Pew study of political polarization noted the “growing contempt that many Republicans and Democrats have for the opposing party,” and since then, “many” is now “most.”

This year, 58 percent of Republicans have a “very unfavorable impression” of Democrats, 12 percent more than two years ago and 26 percent more than in 2008. Democrats’ disdain for Republicans has followed a similar trajectory.

The 2014 survey asked Democrats and Republicans who offered “very unfavorable opinions” of the opposing party if they felt the other side was “so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.” Thirty-seven percent of Republicans and 31 percent of Democrats felt this way, and in two years those numbers have increased by eight and 10 points, respectively.

Among Democrats, 55 percent say the Republican Party makes them feel “afraid.” Forty-nine percent of Republicans say that about Democrats. These numbers increase among the highly politically engaged, with 70 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans fearing their opposition.

Disdain for the other side is as strong, and sometimes outweighs, positive feelings about the party one belongs to. Majorities of Democrats and Republicans cite their party’s platform as their deciding factor for joining, but almost as many say they were driven by “the harm caused by the opposing party’s policies.” Even independent voters, who have come to outnumber members of both major parties and tend to lean Democratic or Republican, are overwhelmingly inclined to cite negative factors for their loose partisan ties.

On a “thermometer” scale of 0-100, where zero is the coldest rating and 100 is the warmest, Democrats give Republicans the mean rating of 31, and Republicans give Democrats a 29. Things get even colder for politicians: Democrats’ average rating of Trump is 11, and Republicans, on average, give Clinton a 12.

Among Democrats, the most resonating critique of Republicans is that members of the GOP are more closed-minded than other Americans; 70 percent of Democrats feel this way. Forty-two percent of Democrats say Republicans are more dishonest, 35 percent say they are more immoral, and 33 percent say they are more unintelligent. By contrast, more than half of Republicans, 52 percent, see Democrats as more closed-minded than other Americans and nearly as many say Democrats are more immoral, dishonest, and lazy.

Not surprisingly, respondents expressed approval for members of their own party. Sixty-seven percent of Democrats consider themselves more open-minded than other Americans, and 59 percent and 51 percent of Republicans, respectively, say GOP members are more hardworking and moral. Republicans and Democrats also show a tendency to view the opposing party as highly ideological, while considering their own less ideological.

There is some hope for social cohesion among diverging parties, but little hope for helpful political discussion. The majority of Democrats and Republicans think they could get along with a new neighbor from the other party, but 42 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of Republicans say it would be easier to welcome members of their own party into the neighborhood. Democrats and Republicans are about equally inclined to say political conversation with people whom they disagree with is “stressful and frustrating” as “interesting and informative” — and either way, an equal amount of Democrats and Republicans, 44 percent, say they “almost never” agree with the other party’s positions.

The cause for this divide is unclear, but researchers suggest a merging of politics, lifestyle, and choice of residence has limited many Americans’ exposure to people with different opinions.

Pew President Michael Dimock told NPR, “If we in fact are surrounding ourselves increasingly with like-minded people, that becomes another factor that can potentially create distance between ‘our side’ and ‘their side.’”

In a 2015 article for the Washington Post, titled The top 10 reasons American politics are so broken, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and political science professor Sam Abrams write, “Liberals and conservatives dress differently, decorate their rooms differently, read different books, take different vacations and drink different alcoholic beverages. As the differences between supporters of the two parties became ever more pervasive and ever more visible to the naked eye, it became easier to spot members of the other team and then dislike them for the way they live.”

There is also the strange relationship between policy positions and political parties that seems to decide voters’ stances on how to handle seemingly disconnected issues.

“The more conservative you are on foreign policy, the more likely you are to be conservative on social issues, on economic issues, on the role of government,” Dimock said. “These dimensions, many of which had very little correlation with each other in the past, are getting increasingly aligned.”

Haidt and Abrams say this is the result of a combination of geography, immigration, and what they call ideological purification, meaning a lack of intellectual diversity within both major parties. The Republicans are conservatives and the Democrats are liberals, which was not the case before 1980.

“The Democratic Party was historically an agrarian party with its power base in the South,” Haidt and Abrams write. “But with the political purification of the parties, the Democrats have become the urban party, focused on issues of concern to city dwellers and expressing more cosmopolitan and secular values. Rural areas, meanwhile, shifted toward the Republican Party. The GOP became much more hospitable to rural interests and values, which tend to be more religious, patriotic and family-oriented.”

So why is there so much hostility on the political landscape? As Haidt and Abrams note, “a basic principle in social psychology is that people will divide themselves up quite readily based on the most trivial distinctions” – and these are not trivial matters.

Photo: Protesters confront a woman, center, leaving a rally for Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump in Fresno, California, U.S. May 27, 2016.  REUTERS/Noah Berger

5 Reasons Barack Obama Doesn’t Get The Credit He Deserves

The greatest compliment Barack Obama ever got from the right was their complete unwillingness to accept reality.

The stock market nearing new highs? Bubble! Jobless claims at a 43-year low? The numbers must be fake! Twenty million more Americans with health insurance? Obamacare can’t possibly be helping anyone because I know a guy who knows someone’s doctor who said…

While many on the left have been disappointed by the president’s “incrementalism,” the Obama administration has engineered tremendous change since 2009 — even as a conservative Supreme Court spent much of 2010 tearing up campaign finance law while the president was forced to reduce the massive deficit he’d inherited from George W. Bush, who inherited a surplus.

Though the president’s approval rating has been edging up, he’s not likely to reach the heights Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan did in their final days in office, nor see anything like the depths that George W. Bush or Richard Nixon earned as they prepared for their last helicopter flight of shame out of the White House.

But there is a strong case to be made for President Obama being one of most consequential presidents ever.

And it’s not just because of the symbolic value of his being our first African American president, nor because he avoided a Great Depression, nor even just because every solar panel, Tesla and wind turbine you’ll ever see — and you’ll see a ton — came about much quicker as a result of Obama’s stimulus. These are all achievements that will endure regardless what happens in November.

“He just flew above it all,” Jim Nelson wrote in GQ. “And, luckily, he took most of us with him. He was the Leader not only of our country but of our mood and disposition, which is harder to rule.”

Why is it so hard to see that now?

  1. Negative partisanship.
    Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the six most recent presidential elections. In 2012, Obama became the first president elected twice with more than 51 percent of the popular vote. Yet Republicans handily won the popular vote, and eventually both houses of Congress, in both 2010 and 2014, forging one the largest conservative majorities since the Great Depression. This phenomenon has been described by political scientists Alan I. Abramowitz and Steven Webster as “negative partisanship,” which means that almost every race has become nationalized and 90 percent of voters participate in straight-ticket voting. While Donald Trump’s candidacy has thus far been so polarizing that it could disrupt this trend, “A growing number of Americans have been voting against the opposing party rather than for their own party,” Abramowitz and Webster explain. Republican voters have no interest in seeing anything Obama does as a success, and others, including myself, tend to see what he’s achieved as substantively positive. However, given George W. Bush’s messy last year and the corporate capture of our “Winner-Take-All” political system, even some on the left are dismayed by how much work remains to be done, and how little seems possible in our divided government.
  2. An activated left that recognizes the very real crises of inequality and endless war.
    When the Congressional Budget Office released “Trends in the Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007” in October of 2011, its recognition of the massive transfer of wealth that had taken place in America helped launch the Occupy movement. But when economist Emmanuel Saez found that most of the economic recovery was going to the richest one percent through 2013, it set off a wave of despondency on the left. We’re yet to see if new taxes on the rich, combined with the greatest anti-inequality measure since the Earned Income Tax — Obamacare — have affected this trend, which began with the anti-tax, anti-regulation, pro-financialization policies that marked the Reagan Revolution. There are encouraging signs that Medicaid expansion is helping to move some the working poor out of debt, but the lack of a public option in the Affordable Care Act is still seen as a massive betrayal of the left and has fed Bernie Sanders’ push for a fully-realized Scandinavian-style safety net. Likewise, Obama’s remarkable victory in 2008 campaigning against the Iraq War sparked hopes for a new era of diplomacy, which has been somewhat realized through the Iran deal and the Paris Climate Change agreement. But the United States’ never-ending involvement in Afghanistan, our return to Iraq, and our abetting of the bombing of Yemen have left what remains of America’s anti-war movement demoralized. Syria is a never-ending humanitarian disaster that some critic say proves Obama over-learned the lessons of Iraq. On the other hand, Libya reveals the challenges that come from interventionism in which the exit strategy is to exit immediately. These are very real, vexing challenges that Obama’s successor must face. And conservatives believe they have the solution — which is to do nearly the same things that got us into these messes.
  3. A conservative electorate insulated from reality by a new media landscape that relies on conflict and derision.
    In conservative media, Obama’s failures as a candidate and human being have been obvious since the moment he took office, and Republican voters took the hint. His disapproval rating among GOP voters has been in the high 70s since the end of his first year of office and it’s now in the high 80s, even as we’re seeing his best numbers from independent voters since he was re-elected. Regular audiences of Fox News and AM radio either don’t know that that deficit has been cut by two-thirds, or that unemployment claims recently hit a 43-year low — or they just refuse to believe it.
  4. Obama’s accomplishments feel like stuff we should have done decades ago.
    On Earth Day, the Department of Transportation announced that all future transportation plans must take into account carbon pollution, a minor but significant achievement that left many Americans thinking, “Why the hell weren’t we doing that already?” When Obama came into office, he did more to fight climate change in a few weeks (with a massive stimulus) than all other presidents had in more than two hundred years. Sure, the Clinton administration took important environmental steps in the 1990s. But they were nearly all abandoned and reversed by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, as they ignored the international consensus on climate science that had emerged long before Al Gore’s popularization of it in the mid 2000s. Similarly, the advancement of LGBTQ rights have happened so quickly that it’s hard to remember what a crucial victory the ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was. Now marriage equality, which the administration fought for through litigation,  is already taken for granted. These huge paradigm shifts all seem inevitable now because they should have happened decades ago. But anyone who lived through 2000-2008 can tell you how quickly achievements that seem irreversible can be washed away by a flood of caprice.
  5. His legacy depends so much on who succeeds him.
    The Affordable Care Act, Wall Street reform, making federal income taxes more progressive, a global climate change agreement, and the removal of nearly all of Iran’s uranium rank among Obama’s greatest accomplishments. And they could all disappear, or at least shrink into irrelevancy, with one election and a few pieces of legislation. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has saved Americans billions of dollars by enforcing the fine print on consumer financial regulations, would never see the second year of a Republican administration. Neither would many of the regulatory positions required to make Dodd-Frank’s reforms work. The survival of these crucial victories depends on the next president. The sudden Supreme Court vacancy left by Antonin Scalia, similarly, will be decided in one way or another by the 2016 election. If it becomes clear Republicans have no chance of succeeding him, Obama will get his third appointment and a chance at leaving America with a left-leaning Court for the first time since the early 1970s. If not, a Republican president will have their chance to replace Scalia and then possibly Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, which will leave America with the most conservative Court since before World War II. Then the right’s agenda of reversing the Obama presidency will be expanded to wipe out the historic achievements of Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt. Like the rest of American politics, Obama’s legacy sits at a crossroads, waiting for voters to render their verdict.

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama toasts with Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri during a state dinner in the Centro Cultural Kirchner as part of President Obama’s two-day visit to Argentina, in Buenos Aires March 23, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

5 Reasons Trump Won’t Win In November — And One Way He Could

Let’s start by clearing up the dumb misconceptions about the 2016 presidential election.

Republican voters aren’t significantly angrier than they normally are. Primary turnout is in no way clearly predictive of general election success. Donald Trump hasn’t brought hordes of new people to the Republican Party. He’s not any more unpopular with Republican voters than Mitt Romney was at this stage in the 2012 election. He’s more blatantly racistxenophobic and misogynistic than his primary foes, but his core policy views are nearly identical to all the other Republican candidates. For instance, he wants to make the rich richer, denies climate science and is promising to appoint ultra-conservatives to the Supreme Court.

The real story of the 2016 election is actually quite extraordinary, but no one seems much interested in reality right now.

The candidate who has gotten the most votes, for the second straight contested Democratic presidential primary in a row, is a woman. And most of the people who are voting for her are very pleased with the current Democratic president, who is about as popular now as Ronald Reagan was at this point in his eighth year in office.

“Of course, angry voters make for sexier clickbait,” The New Republic‘s Eric Sasson wrote. “So it’s not too surprising that we’re not seeing front-page headlines that scream, ‘Satisfied Obama Supporters Show Up in Droves.'”

There are plenty of reasons to be frustrated and want more from a government that has been hijacked to serve corporate interests. But few Americans seem eager to shift back the Republican policies that escalated our structural deficiencies into a global financial crisis. And even fewer seem interested in handing over the most powerful military ever created to a paper-thin-skinned demagogue with a scary tolerance for violence, or a sick appetite for it.

He will be the most divisive major presidential candidate in at least a century — an unprincipled Barry Goldwater who could put even the most secure Republican House majority in play with his supreme ability to offend the anti-masochistic.

Here are five reasons why Donald Trump won’t be the next president of the United States. And, to combat complacence, an additional pitch on why you should still be working your ass off to defeat him.

  1. There aren’t enough angry white men in America to make Donald Trump president.
    Math is not on Donald Trump’s side. Maybe that’s why doesn’t want to release his tax returns. “The math suggests Trump would need a whopping 70 percent of white male voters to cast their ballots for him,” David S. Bernstein wrote in Politico. “That’s a larger percentage than Republicans have ever won before — more than the GOP won in the landslide victories of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and far more than they won during the racially polarized elections of Barack Obama.” The argument is: Trump could motivate Americans who usually don’t show up at the polls; except that most of the people who don’t vote tend to be progressive-leaning non-white males. Trump likes to imagine he’s going to sweep the Rust Belt — even though he’s doing worse with white voters there than Mitt Romney did. It’s true, Politico‘s Timothy Noah points out, that Trump is “doing exceptionally well compared to the other Republican candidates with (overwhelmingly white) blue-collar voters in Republican primaries.” But these are men who’d likely vote for the GOP nominee no matter who he is.
  2. The economy indicates a Democratic victory.
    If Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee, and is ultimately elected president, this week will be looked upon as a turning point for her campaign. She not only surprised with a string of victories in Midwest primaries and watched the GOP take another step towards nominating the most unpopular presidential candidate in modern history, but the Fed indicated that it’s slowing the rate increases it had planned just days before the stock market went positive for the year. Some political scientists suggest that how voters feel about the economy is the most predictive factor for whether they’ll seek a change in the White House. And the U.S. economy — especially its job market — remains the great hope of the world, despite stagnating income growth for all but the ultra-wealthy. “Forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicts that the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, will win 50.9% of the popular vote in November, assuming the economy carries on as expected, with no big surprises,” Yahoo News’ Rick Newman reported.
  3. Trump’s brilliant primary plan is a brilliant plan to lose the general election.
    Trump’s plan to win the Republican primary by insulting elites and appealing the basest instincts of Republican voters was designed to offend and fascinate the media, and it worked. But by endorsing mass deportations, banning Muslims from entrance into the U.S., and defunding Planned Parenthood, Trump has alienated the exact voters Republicans need the most. “Based on estimates of the composition of the 2016 electorate, if the next GOP nominee wins the same share of the white vote as Mitt Romney won in 2012 (59 percent), he or she would need to win 30 percent of the nonwhite vote. Set against recent history, that is a daunting obstacle,” the Washington Post‘s Dan Balz wrote. “Romney won only 17 percent of nonwhite voters in 2012. John McCain won 19 percent in 2008. George W. Bush won 26 percent in 2004.” The idea that Trump is about twice as appealing to minority voters as Romney was is hard to believe. And with Romney attacking Trump for associating himself with racism, bigotry and xenophobia, you can imagine that many of the voters who turned out for Romney in droves will vote Democratic or stay home, making Trump’s hurdles even higher.
  4. Trump puts new states in play — for Democrats.
    Trump continually claims he can put states like New York and Michigan in play, despite polls showing him losing in both states by double digits. These “rust belt” fantasies mostly miss the fact that most of the Democrats willing to leave the party because of racial appeals already have. Meanwhile, Trump’s hostility towards non-white voters could make North Carolina a swing state again. And for the first time, in Arizona a recent poll shows both Clinton and Sanders leading Trump.
  5. Negative partisanship.
    “The party system has split along racial, cultural, and religious lines, creating a kind of tribal system where each party’s supports regard the other side with incomprehension and loathing,” New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait explained after looking at the work of political scientists Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster. These researchers see in the data what George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s political teams both saw: the death of the swing voter. When women, young people, and people of color make up 81 percent of America’s total population, Democrats have a definite advantage, especially in years with high turnout. That’s why in 2010 we saw an historic effort to make access to the ballot more difficult. “In this trench-warfare atmosphere, the fact that the bloc of voters loyal to the Democrats is growing steadily would seem to loom large,” Chait writes, with the usual caveats about a recession, scandal, or terror attack being able to “disrupt” this pattern — even though voters seem to trust Clinton to deal with a terror attack over Trump.

Here’s how Trump wins: He keeps exceeding expectations.

Maybe we are in denial. That’s what Dilbert creator Scott Adams believes.

“Today I coined the phrase persuasion denier for people who think Clinton’s current poll numbers mean she will beat Trump in November,” he wrote on his purposely provocative blog. “If persuasion is real – and significant for elections – the past will not predict the future. The Master Persuader will warp reality until he gets what he wants. He’s halfway done.”

And Adams isn’t alone. Organized labor is sounding the alarm that Trump could be more popular with the working class than some expect.

Master analyst of political framing George Lakoff is also worried.

“The Democratic Party has not been taking seriously many of the reasons for Trump’s support and the range of that support. And the media has not been discussing many of the reasons for Trump’s support. That needs to change,” he warned in an excellent post explicating the GOP frontrunner’ appeal, “Why Trump?”

With $2 billion thus far in free media from America’s “news” networks, Trump cannot be underestimated. Democrats shouldn’t count on Republicans self-destructing, or on the media standing up to the increasingly absurd demands of this billion-dollar baby.

History tells us that Trump’s rise should not have happened; that “it” can’t happen here. But it could, if we let it.

Photo: Saif Alnuweiri