Inter Press Service » North America Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:48:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Syrian Refugees Face Hunger Amidst Humanitarian Funding Crisis Thu, 02 Jul 2015 19:33:21 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan Syrian children outside their temporary home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Syrian children outside their temporary home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 2 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations’ food aid organisation, the World Food Programme (WFP), said on Jul. 1 that up to 440,000 refugees from war-torn Syria might have to go hungry if no additional funds are received by August.

WFP, the world’s largest humanitarian agency dedicated to fighting hunger, provides food every month to nearly six million people in need in Syria and the surrounding region.

“Every time we take one step forward, we fall ten steps back. I have given up the hope that we will ever live normally again. I know the world has forgotten us; we’re too much of a burden." -- Fatmeh, a Syrian refugee who fled to Lebanon three years ago
Though the agency received 5.38 billion dollars in 2014, the continuing emergencies in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere mean that needs now far outpace available funding.

From assisting an estimated 2.5 million refugees last year, limited funding has forced the organisation to scale back its operations, with the result that just 1.6 million refugees are currently receiving rations.

A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report published in March 2015 revealed that an estimated 3.33 million refugees have fled Syria since 2014, making Syrians the second largest refugee population in the world, after the Palestinians.

The cuts come at a time when Syrian refugees are spending their fourth year away from home, unable to celebrate the annual Ramadan festival, one of the most important religious occasions celebrated by Muslims worldwide.

The upcoming winter may leave up to 1.7 million people without fuel, shelter, insulation and blankets.

WFP is fully funded by voluntary contributions from governments, companies and private individuals. The organisation reports that its regional programme in the Middle East is currently 81 percent underfunded and requires 139 million dollars to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq through September 2015.

“Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, we are forced yet again to make yet more cuts,” WFP Regional Director for the Middle East Muhannad Hadi said in a press release Wednesday. “Refugees were already struggling to cope with what little we could provide.”

The humanitarian funding crisis began in 2013, when the number of Syrian refugees receiving food assistance from WFP dropped by 30 percent.

Food parcels were downsized in October 2014, following a WFP announcement in September that they have no funding available in December 2014 for programmes in Syria.

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of WFP, appealed to the United Nations Security Council and member nations in April 2015 for more funding.

“When we announced the reductions in Jordan our hotlines were overwhelmed. Thousands of appeal calls come in each day. Calls from families that have exhausted their resources and feel abandoned […] by us all,” she said. “One woman told us, ‘I cannot stay […] if I cannot feed my children.'”

A fundraising campaign in December 2014 raised enough funds for WFP to carry on its programmes through December, but in January 2015, WFP cut the amount of money in electronic food cards provided to refugees from 27 dollars to 19 dollars.

Starting this month, the value fell to just 13.5 dollars.

This is not the first time WFP has faced a funding crisis. In 2009, aid operations in Guatemala, Bangladesh and Kenya faced reductions in supply of food rations due to a lack of funding. In 2011, a similar situation occurred in Zimbabwe.

When faced with funding shortfalls, WFP suspends programmes and only provides aid to the most vulnerable groups – pregnant women, children and the elderly.

International efforts to relieve suffering caused by the Syrian crisis culminated in the Jun. 25 Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) that called for 5.5 billion dollars to fund the needs of host governments, United Nations agencies and NGO aid operations in the area.

According to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS) of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), only 25 percent of the appeal has been met.

“This massive crisis requires far more solidarity and responsibility-sharing from the international community than what we have seen so far,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in a Jun. 25 WFP press release.

“But instead, we are so dangerously low on funding that we risk not being able to meet even the most basic survival needs of millions of people over the coming six months.”

The United States has contributed over 609 million dollars to the effort, representing 26.4 percent of the total pledged. The United Kingdom follows behind with a contribution of over 344 million dollars.

A WFP interview with Syrian refugees in Lebanon captures the refugees’ desperation:

“Every time we take one step forward, we fall ten steps back. I have given up the hope that we will ever live normally again,” said Fatmeh, a refugee who fled to Lebanon three years ago, in the WFP interview.

“I know the world has forgotten us; we’re too much of a burden. They’ve given up on us too.”

The crisis in Syria began in 2011 after security forces killed several pro-democracy protestors. Unrest followed with demands for President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation, to which he responded with violence.

The situation worsened with the rise of the armed group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in northern and eastern Syria. The country became a battleground between four forces – Assad’s pro-governmental forces, Kurdish fighters, ISIS, and rebel fighters eager to overturn Assad’s regime.

In the midst of the violence, Syrians are faced with a crumbling economy. The UNDP report revealed that four out of every five Syrians lived in poverty in 2014, and almost two-thirds of the population was unable to secure basic food and non-food items necessary for survival.

The death toll in Syria reached 210,000 by the end of 2014, with 840,000 people wounded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.S. Urged to Ramp up Aid for Agent Orange Clean-Up Efforts in Vietnam Mon, 29 Jun 2015 17:54:42 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange during the decade 1961-1972. Credit: naturalbornstupid/CC-BY-SA-2.0

An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange during the decade 1961-1972. Credit: naturalbornstupid/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

A key senator and a D.C.-based think tank are calling for Washington to step up its aid in cleaning up toxic herbicides sprayed by the United States in Vietnam during the war that ended 40 years ago.

Speaking last week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a major think tank here, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who has long led the efforts in the U.S. Congress to compensate Vietnamese war victims, called on Washington to do more, arguing that it will further bolster renewed ties between the two countries.

“We can meet the target of cleaning up the dioxin and Agent Orange between now and the year 2020, but the target is very difficult to get to. We need more assistance.” -- Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Pham Quang Vinh
Leahy’s remarks were echoed by Charles Bailey, former director of Aspen Institute’s Agent Orange in Vietnam Program – a multi-year initiative to deal with health and environmental impacts of the estimated 19 million gallons of herbicides that were sprayed over 4.5 million acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1970.

Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Pham Quang Vinh expressed similar sentiments at the event.

Hanoi’s ambassador said his government has been spending 45 million dollars every year to deal with the many problems created by Agent Orange and other herbicides used by U.S. military forces during the war.

“We can meet the target of cleaning up the dioxin and Agent Orange between now and the year 2020, but the target is very difficult to get,” he said. “We need more assistance.”

An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange. The Vietnam Red Cross estimates that three million Vietnamese people were affected, including 150,000 children born with birth defects.

Those who bore the brunt of the chemical spraying suffered cancer, liver damage, severe skin and nervous disorders and heart disease. The children and even grandchildren of people exposed to Agent Orange have been born with deformities, defects, disabilities and diseases.

Huge expanses of forest and jungle, including the natural habitats of several species, were devastated. Many of these species are still threatened with extinction.

In some areas, rivers were poisoned and underground water sources contaminated. Erosion and desertification as a result of the herbicide sprays made barren fields out of once-fertile farmlands.

The United States currently funds aid operations in Vietnam through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). According to Bailey, 136 million dollars have been appropriated to date. But some observers of the programme say still more should be done.

Merle Ratner from the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign said that too little of the aid has gone to the people. Most of it is given to international NGOs, who are then contracted to do the work, she said.

“We are suggesting that the aid go directly to NGOs in Vietnam because who knows the people better than their own organisations?” Ratner told IPS.

“People should be involved in their own solutions to the situation.”

The renewed attention comes at a time when the U.S. and Vietnam have moved closer together, particularly in light of the two nations’ growing concerns over China’s recent assertiveness in the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by Vietnam, as well as the Philippines, Taiwan, and Malaysia.

“I want to turn Agent Orange from being a symbol of antagonism into an area where the U.S and Vietnamese governments can work together,” Leahy said. “At a time when China is actively seeking to extend its sphere of influence and United States has begun its own re-balance towards Asia, these Vietnam legacy programs have taken on greater significance.”

The general secretary of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Nguyen Phy Trong, is scheduled to visit the United States this year, the first such trip by the nation’s ruling party chief.

The warming relationship has helped Leahy further his cause. Leahy met with much resistance in the early 2000s when Washington was clearly reluctant to take responsibility for the destruction wrought by its forces during the war in which an estimated two million Vietnamese and some 55,000 U.S. troops were killed.

Vietnam, on the other hand, put the issue on the backburner as it focused on gaining preferential trade status (Permanent Normal Trade Relations) for exports to the huge U.S. market.

While Washington and Hanoi established full diplomatic relations in 1995, it wasn’t until 2002 that the two governments held a joint conference on the impact of Agent Orange and other herbicides on Vietnam and its people.

In Dec. 2014, President Barack Obama signed into law the Fiscal Year 2015 Appropriations Act that specifically makes available funds for the remediation of dioxin contaminated areas in Vietnam.

Much of those funds have been earmarked for a clean-up project at the former giant U.S. military base at Da Nang, which is 824 km from the capital, Hanoi. The project is expected to be completed in 2016.

The U.S. military sprayed Agent Orange and other herbicides over many parts of rural Vietnam, destroying millions of hectares of forests in an attempt to deny the Viet Cong insurgents and their North Vietnamese allies cover and food.

Two-thirds of the herbicide contains dioxin. According to the National Institute for Environmental Health Science, dioxin is a compound found to cause cancer and diabetes, as well as a host of other diseases.

A scientific report in 1969 also concluded that the herbicide can cause birth defects in laboratory animals, thus leading U.S. forces to halt the use of Agent Orange in 1970.

A 1994 Institute of Medicine study records that there was a growing number of Vietnam veterans who have fathered handicapped children. Many still dispute the link between Agent Orange and birth defects—Vietnam veterans in the United States still cannot claim benefits for birth defects in their children.

While welcoming Washington’s new aid programme, some activists who have long called for the U.S. to help Vietnam address the problems left behind by Agent Orange insist that U.S. should both do more and provide more direct assistance to Vietnamese groups on the ground who believe that the United States’ funds could be better distributed.

Susan Hammond, executive director of the War Legacies Project, said she hopes to see more of the money go to rural Vietnam.

“U.S. funding, at this point, is pretty much limited to the Da Nang area,” Hammond said. “In rural areas, families are pretty much left on their own.”

Tim Rieser, Leahy’s chief staffer with the Senate subcommittee that deals with foreign aid, recalled that it was initially very difficult to obtain any funding from the government.

“The State Department and Pentagon were very resistant to the idea of any kind of action by the U.S. that might be interpreted as reparations or compensation,” he said.

“It took over a year to reach an agreement with them that what we were talking about was not either of those things, but it was of trying to work with the Vietnamese government to address the problems that we obviously have responsibility for.”

Rieser said he is currently urging the Pentagon to help fund the cleanup of the Bien Hoa airbase, 1,702 km from the capital. He said the area could well contain even higher levels of dioxin than Da Nang. And he urged Obama to include additional money in his proposed 2016 budget.

“Ideally, if the president would include money in the budget, it would make our lives much easier,” he said. “But at the very least when there are opportunities – like when the president goes to Vietnam or the general secretary comes here – to reaffirm the commitment of both countries to continue working on this issue. [That] is almost as important as providing the funds.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.S. Supreme Court Deals Blow to Obama’s Emissions Cuts Mon, 29 Jun 2015 17:43:55 +0000 Kitty Stapp The rule affects about 600 U.S. power plants, the majority of which are fueled by coal. Credit: Bigstock

The rule affects about 600 U.S. power plants, the majority of which are fueled by coal. Credit: Bigstock

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

In a setback to the Barack Obama administration’s clean energy plans just five months ahead of a critical climate change summit in Paris this December, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday blocked an initiative to limit emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants.

In a five-four decision, the majority of the sharply divided court declared that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had failed to take into account the high costs its rules would impose.

The new rules had been challenged by industry groups and 21 Republican-led states in which hundreds of the older plants are operating.

“One would not say that it is even rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits,” Justice Antonin Scalia said from the bench. “No regulation is ‘appropriate’ if it does significantly more harm than good.”

Long stymied by the U.S. Congress on issues related to climate change, Obama has tried to circumvent Republican lawmakers by offering dozens of regulatory tweaks and targets that his administration could implement without Congressional approval.

Last June, Obama said the new measures would get the United States back on track to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The president originally set this goal three years before, but Congress failed to institute policies that that could allow for such a decrease.

The centrepiece of the plan was a crackdown on carbon pollution from power plants, both planned and existing. In the United States, power plants are responsible for some 40 percent of carbon emissions.

“We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulphur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free,” the president stated. “That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.”

Much of Obama’s vision revolved around the ability of the EPA to enforce regulations under a key piece of decades-old legislation known as the Clean Air Act.

Under Monday’s Supreme  Court ruling, the EPA’s rule will stay in effect for now, but a final decision has been kicked down to the DC Circuit Court with instructions to consider costs in the initial stage of implementation.

While many newer power plants have technology to curb toxic releases, the rules target plants that still do not capture those emissions. They affect about 600 U.S. power plants, the majority of which are fueled by coal.

“The Court has sided with the Dirty Delinquents  – the small percentage of coal-fired plants that haven’t cleaned up – and against the majority that are already protecting our children from mercury and other toxic pollutants,” said Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp in a statement.

“It’s critically important for our nation that these life-saving protections remain in place while EPA responds to the Court’s decision, and EDF will focus its efforts on ensuring these safeguards are intact.”

Earthjustice DC Senior Associate Attorney Neil Gormley, whose group filed a brief in support of the EPA, said the court’s ruling “doesn’t change EPA’s authority to protect the public from toxic air pollution.”

“It just gives the agency another hoop to jump through. Now EPA should act quickly to finalise these crucial health protections,” Gormley said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Charleston Church Shooting Sparks Debate on Race in South Africa Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:01:51 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

South Africa’s old guard of separatist whites who supported the racist policy of apartheid have been reading with interest about Dylann Roof, accused assassin in the deaths of nine churchgoers at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The right-wing Front National party was quoted to say that the photo of shooting suspect Roof, wearing a jacket bearing apartheid-era South African and Rhodesian flags, was photoshopped.

“…The liberal media in South Africa and a host of liberal social media platforms have been spitting acid about the young man who shot and killed a number of African Americans in a church in Charleston in the south of America”, they wrote in a Facebook post.

“Front National South Africa started questioning the picture … and suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the Facebook profile ‘disappeared’, but not before we got hold of the original “un-photoshopped” picture. The REAL badge is rather reminiscent of the logo of the American Democratic Party of Barack Obama!”

Another view was expressed by South African writer Eusebius McKaiser who pleaded for understanding of a wayward young man.

“Dylann Roof isn’t a terrorist,” insisted McKaiser. “He isn’t a racist. He isn’t a monster. He isn’t a murderer. And he certainly isn’t singularly responsible for having allegedly killed nine people.

‘Roof is the product of a world that created him… We created the racist society into which poor Roof was born. It is our collective racism and hatred that are the building blocks of the Roof tragedy.

“Perhaps the saddest part of the whole tragedy is that Roof’s empathy for other people shone so brightly for an hour in that church,” the black South African lamented. “For a whole hour, he was in communion with people different from him. He reportedly tells us that he almost didn’t shoot any of them because they were so nice to him. I confess, I was moved to tears.

“What that shows is that it would be cruel for us to lock up Roof and scapegoat him for society’s ills.”

An opposing view appeared in the Mail & Guardian by Terri Barnes, history professor now at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who compared the controversy over the statue of Cecil Rhodes, founder of the policy of enforced racial segregation, at the University of Cape Town with the Confederate flag.

Barnes wrote: “After a great deal of pressure from many quarters and a lot of good, hard debate, the statue has since come down. (Still), the odious Confederate flag and versions thereof officially fly in seven US states: South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.

“Cape Town University had the wisdom to remove a symbol of racist oppression, elitism, and callous barbarism from its campus. Will Americans have the wisdom to tackle their own outdated symbols of a horrible past?”

“It is heartbreaking,” the long-time resident of South Africa continued, “even in the midst of a killing season the likes of which America has perhaps never before witnessed — that the stench of the old South Africa and of racist Rhodesia still have the power to inspire someone like Roof.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Journalists Pay the Price in Egypt’s Crackdown on Dissent Thu, 25 Jun 2015 18:25:00 +0000 Kitty Stapp U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets then Egyptian Minister of Defence General Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, on November 3, 2013. Credit: U.S. Department of State

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

The Egyptian government is holding a record number of journalists in jail, a press freedom group said Thursday, despite promises to improve media freedoms in the country.

A prison census conducted by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) at the start of this month found that Egyptian authorities were currently detaining at least 18 journalists in connection with their work. This is the highest number since CPJ began recording data on imprisoned journalists in 1990."The al-Sisi government is acting as though to restore stability Egypt needs a dose of repression the likes of which it hasn't seen for decades, but its treatment is killing the patient." -- Joe Stork of HRW

The group says that the government led by President Abdelfattah el-Sisi, who won nearly uncontested elections in May 2014, has used the pretext of national security to crack down on human rights, including press freedom.

The United States remains the country’s largest benefactor. Although the Barack Obama administration sent a critical report on Egypt to Congress last month, it still recommended that Washington continue sending 1.3 billion dollars in mostly military aid.

Asked whether the U.S. should use this aid as leverage to demand reforms, Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s programme coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, told IPS, “We would like international policy makers and institutions to insist on respect for press freedom and the complete end to ongoing censorship as conditions for bilateral and multilateral support.

“They also should speak out against ongoing press violations in both public statements and private communications with the Egyptian government.”

In an ominous sign that authorities are increasingly focusing on the internet to quash dissent, more than half of the jailed journalists worked online.

Six of the journalists in CPJ’s census were sentenced to life in prison in a mass trial of 51 defendants.

Several others are being held in pretrial detention, and have not had a date set for a court hearing. One of those is Mahmoud Abou-Zeid, who was arrested in August 2013 while taking photographs of the violent dispersal of a sit-in in support of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, in which hundreds of Islamists were killed. He has been in pre-trial detention since then and has not been formally charged.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a primary weapon in the crackdown is the “terrorist entities” decree issued on Nov. 26. It defines “terrorist” in extraordinarily broad terms: in addition to language about violence and threats of violence, the law covers any offence that in the view of authorities “harms national unity” or the environment or natural resources, or impedes work of public officials or application of the constitution or laws.

A “terrorist” is anyone who supports such an entity – support that can include “providing information.”

Foreign reporters have also been targeted. A year ago, on June 23, 2014, an Egyptian court convicted three Al Jazeera journalists and 15 others for their alleged association with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

While the White House complained at the time that the verdict “flouts the most basic standards of media freedom and represents a blow to democratic progress in Egypt,” it did not cut off aid.

The three Al-Jazeera journalists, all of whom had previously worked for mainstream international news media, were Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed.

They were detained after a raid on their studio in the Marriott Hotel in Cairo and charged with membership in the Muslim Brotherhood and fabricating video footage to “give the appearance Egypt is in a civil war.” The three were initially sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security prison, with an additional three years for Mohamed for possessing a spent shell he kept as a souvenir.

Other defendants, mostly students, were accused of aiding the reporters in allegedly fabricating the footage. While two were acquitted, most were sentenced to seven years in prison; those tried in absentia were sentenced to 10 years.

Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed are finally out of prison, though Fahmy and Mohamed still face a new trial on the same charges of supporting the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.

“The trial was a complete sham,” according to Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

In a scathing report issued on March 6, HRW marked al-Sisi’s first year in power by noting that arbitrary and politically motivated arrests have soared since al-Sisi, then defence minister, seized power in July 2013 from Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed al-Morsi.

“The al-Sisi government is acting as though to restore stability Egypt needs a dose of repression the likes of which it hasn’t seen for decades, but its treatment is killing the patient,” wrote Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

According to CPJ, the president is soon expected to sign into law a draft cybercrime bill, framed as anti-terrorism legislation, which allows law enforcement agencies to block websites and pursue heavy prison sentences against Internet users for vaguely defined crimes such as “harming social peace” and “threatening national unity.”

“The potential implications for bloggers and journalists are dire,” the group says.

The bill has been endorsed by the cabinet, and is awaiting el-Sisi’s approval to come into law.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Ethical Challenges to Advertising Sat, 20 Jun 2015 10:00:04 +0000 Hazel Henderson

In this column, Hazel Henderson, president of Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil) and author of 'Mapping the Global Transition to the Solar Age' and other books, writes that advertising need not necessarily be manipulative – it can be a powerful force for educating, inspiring and showcasing the best innovations for growing more inclusive, greener, knowledge-rich and sustainable societies.

By Hazel Henderson
ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida, Jun 20 2015 (IPS)

Challenges to advertisers and marketers arose in the past century. Critics deplored the role of cigarette marketers who exploited the aspirations of women by associating smoking with liberation. 

Such manipulations were explored by Vance Packard in The Hidden Persuaders (1957), along with Marshal McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message (1967) and Stuart Ewen’s Captains of Consciousness (1974).  The use of subliminal advertising (rapid flashing of product images faster than human cognition) was challenged and the public discussion led to its disuse.

Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson

By the 1980s, Ian Mitroff and Warren Bennis described the “deliberate manufacturing of falsehood” in The Unreality Industry (1989), followed by William Schrader’s Media Blight and the Dehumanizing of America (1992), Naomi Klein’s No Logo (1999) and Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death (2005).

Fast forward to today’s ethical challenges.

Political advertising of candidates was likened to selling toothpaste as it emerged in the 1970s and summarized by Charles Lewis in The Buying of the President (1996) and James Fallows in Breaking the News (1996). Today, the gutting of restrictions on money in U.S. elections has led to the well-financed blizzard of attack ads that lead millions of voters to turn off their TV sets in disgust. Media corporations and their TV channels have come to rely on such financial bonanzas during elections.

What this confirms is that advertising influences media owners and the content of programmes and often distorts news coverage, leading to subtle commercial censorship rarely recognised as a threat to free speech in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Civic groups’ limited funding precludes challenging false and misleading advertising and the “greenwashing” of many companies’ poor environmental records. “Civic groups’ limited funding precludes challenging false and misleading advertising and the “greenwashing” of many companies’ poor environmental records”

I summarised these issues a few years ago in an interview in Forbes magazine on why I founded the EthicMark Awards for “advertising that uplifts the human spirit and society”.

These Awards recognise that advertising, a global 500 billion dollars a year  industry, can be a powerful force for good beyond consumerism, in educating, inspiring and showcasing the best innovations for growing more inclusive, greener, knowledge-rich and sustainable societies.

The newest challenge to advertisers comes from Silicon Valley with the many apps that allow users to skip and block ads, including AdBlockPlus (downloaded 400 million times), as well as add-ons to Chrome and Firefox browsers.  Ad block users have grown to 200 million a month, according to PageFair and The Economist.

Advertisers could redeem their reputations and business models via Truth in Advertising Assurance Set Aside (TIAASA) which would disallow their tax exempt funds on false advertising and then award these funds to civic challengers to hire ad agencies to prepare counter-advertising campaigns.

All this highlights the growing vulnerability of media business models in the United States, other industrial societies and worldwide.

Many new media business models which no longer rely on advertising are debated in The Death and Life of American Journalism (2010) by Robert McChesney and John Nichols who compare media access policies in many countries which subsidise investigative journalism, such as Britain’s BBC.

In the United States, foundations support news organisations such as the National Geographic, the Center for Public Integrity and ProPublica, and media outlets such as the Columbia Journalism Review. The American Prospect and The Nation are largely funded by subscribers as well as PBS and NPR in broadcasting, along with many internet-based media such as The Real News Network.

Google banned ad-blocking apps in 2013, yet alternative web-browsers such as UC Browser already claims 500 million users, mostly in China and India, and Eyeo launched its ad-blocking browser available for mobile devices running Google’s Android.  These battles will rage on until legal systems – always lagging behind technology – catch up.

Two reports from the Aspen Institute’s Communications and Society Program led by Charles Firestone – “Navigating Continual Disruption” and “The Atomic Age of Data” – discuss the digitisation of ever more sectors of industrial societies and the internet of things (IOT).

In the United States, the monopolising of internet access by Comcast, AT&T and Verizon has restricted broadband access to millions in less affluent, rural communities and prevented small towns from competing with public broadband systems, as reported by the Center for Public Integrity and Susan Crawford in Captive Audience (2013).

The good news follows the analysis and proposals of Kunda Dixit in DatelineEarth: Journalism as if the Planet Mattered (IPS, 1997) and includes Dan Gillmore’s We the Media (2004) on grassroots journalism; David Bollier’s In Search of the Public Interest in the New Media (2002); Democratizing Global Media (2005); Making the Net Work: Sustainable Development in a Digital Society (2003) from Britain’s Forum for the Future; and Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future? (2013). (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Q&A: ‘What if the Worst-Case Scenarios Actually Come to Pass?’ Fri, 05 Jun 2015 20:26:49 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida A satellite image of Typhoon Haiyan captures the scale of the storm. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/CC-BY-2.0

A satellite image of Typhoon Haiyan captures the scale of the storm. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Jun 5 2015 (IPS)

Imagine this, if you can: the world as we know it torn apart by ‘hypercanes’, storms with wind speeds of over 500 mph, capable of producing a system the size of North America. A tiny fraction of humanity driven to a civilisation underground, the remaining masses left to fend for themselves on the virtually uninhabitable Earth’s surface. Species extinction is complete and genetic engineering is at a new height, to ensure the continued survival of what’s left of the human race.

"I don't think I use the term "climate change" once in the book. That was deliberate. [The] last thing most people want is a preachy novel where the characters are obvious stand-ins for the author's opinion." -- Kat Ross
This is the setting for ‘Some Fine Day’, a novel for young adults by Kat Ross that falls into an emerging sub-genre of science fiction known as climate fiction, or ‘cli-fi’.

Readers follow the story of sixteen-year-old Jansin Nordqvist, who’s on the verge of graduating from a military academy when her parents surprise her with a trip to the surface.

Thrilled at the chance to see the ocean, breathe fresh air and experience real sunlight, Jansin cannot anticipate what her future holds: a period of captivity with the surface ‘savages’ she’s been warned about all her life, and discoveries about the underground regime that leave her questioning everything she’s ever been taught.

Over the past two years, cli-fi novels have gone from being a fringe sub-category to a widely referenced genre on sites like Amazon, as more and more writers turn their eye to the horrific realities of catastrophic climate change.

With global climate negotiations hamstrung and world leaders unable, or unwilling, to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40-70 percent by 2030 to prevent the worst forms of global warming, there is no doubt that natural disasters will become more frequent and more extreme.

Given that youth will bear the brunt of an increasingly savage climate, it is impossible to underestimate the role that cli-fi could play in informing and inspiring the younger generation to take action now against the worst-case scenarios of the future.

IPS sat down with Kat Ross to discuss the ways in which fiction can contribute to the debate that is raging around the world on the ‘ifs, whens and whats’ of climate change.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: When did you first become interested in the ‘cli-fi’ genre, and what drew you to this particular form of storytelling?

Cover art for Some Fine Day.

Cover art for Some Fine Day.

A: I have to give props to Dan Bloom for coining the term cli-fi. It’s super catchy, and he’s really given the genre a major boost. But when I sat down to write the book, there was no question that climate change would be a big part of the plot. As a journalist, I’d been covering it for almost a decade, and every year, the predictions got scarier. Some stopped being predictions about the future and started actually happening.

I was struck by the massive disconnect between what scientists and the public were saying – like hey, can we do something about this? – and the total lack of government action. The elephant in the room is obviously the fossil fuel lobby, among others. They spend billions of dollars spreading “doubt” about the science, which is ludicrous. I think fiction can be a great way into a conversation about these issues, especially with young people.

Some Fine Day starts with a basic question: what if the worst-case scenarios actually come to pass?

Q: Is the book, though set in the future, actually a commentary on our own times? If so, what do you think are the most important takeaways for young people at this moment in history?

A: Oh, definitely! I think it’s pretty explicit that the ravaged world in the story – about 80 years or so from now – is a direct result of doing too little, too late on runaway CO2 emissions. But the cool thing is that while we may have one toe at the edge of the precipice, we haven’t taken that plunge yet. There’s still time to change the future. And young people have been stepping up for years now. Adopt a Negotiator is a great initiative that works a lot with youth. They bring accountability to these very opaque negotiations.

Ultimately, it’s the people in their teens and twenties who will be living with the consequences of the choices we make today – and they’re not happy. Governments better start listening.

Q: The book both celebrates and condemns the limits to which humanity has pushed technology and scientific experimentation — on the one hand, an entire civilisation living underground entirely as a result of scientific innovation; on the other, genetic engineering gone horribly awry. What were your thoughts as an author navigating these two extremes?

Kat Ross, author of Some Fine Day. Credit: Courtesy Kat Ross

Kat Ross, author of Some Fine Day. Credit: Courtesy Kat Ross

A: Well, that’s the thing, right? Technology itself isn’t good or evil, it’s what we do with it. This is not a new question. Just look at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1818. We’re still fascinated by her tale of death and reanimation, and the awful consequences of scientific hubris. The basic idea is that everything comes with a price, although in the case of a switch to renewables, there doesn’t seem to be quite the same downside as bringing a giant dead guy back to life.

For Some Fine Day, I had a lot of fun asking questions like, exactly how do you build an underground city? Where does the air come from, the food and water? Are hypercanes possible? (According to a scientist at MIT, the answer is yes) If all the icecaps melted, how much would the seas rise? What would that look like for the Eastern Seaboard?

In short, I have a fondness for creepy mutants and couldn’t help throwing a few into the mix.

Q: Themes of the surveillance state, fascist governance and the so-called ‘one percent’ run consistently through the book, with the protagonist first a product of, then an enemy of, all of the above. How did you imagine or hope your target audience would understand these ideas in the context of the story?

A: It’s become something of a fixture of the dystopian genre to have jack-booted thugs running things. But I think it actually made sense in the context of the story. These are people who have lost everything. They’ve been driven from the surface by massive storms, ocean acidification, species extinction, the whole enchilada. The transition to underground prefectures was spearheaded by the military, and now they’re facing very limited resources. Every drop of water, every bite of food is rationed. There’s a tendency to hoard, and to fight with your neighbours. So it’s not a very democratic society.

As you say, what’s interesting about the main character, Jansin, is that she starts off as one of the true believers – a special ops cadet who’s been trained all her life to never question orders. But she evolves over the course of the story to understand that she doesn’t have to live like that. It doesn’t have to be “us versus them.” Which is the most powerful propaganda tool ever invented.

It’s one of the reasons I like to write about young protagonists. I think in general, their minds are more open. Their core beliefs haven’t yet fossilized.

Q: There is a sense of urgency to the book that makes it an absolute page-turner. While this is a work of fiction, it does in many ways mirror the current emergency humanity finds itself in. Was this intentional? Or was the point more to create a thriller, and leave the readers to draw their own conclusions about the ‘climate politics’ of the world you create?

A: I don’t think I use the term “climate change” once in the book. That was deliberate. It’s pretty clear what’s happened, and frankly, the last thing most people want is a preachy novel where the characters are obvious stand-ins for the author’s opinion. Or maybe you do, but it’s easy to go out and find that kind of book if it’s your bag.

Some Fine Day is targeted at the young adult audience (though I think it’s for anyone), so I needed to be extra-careful there. Stealth indoctrination! Just kidding. No, I mainly wanted to tell a ripping good story, with characters you care about, and build a world that felt real in every sense.

Margaret Atwood pretty much summed it up. She says: “It’s rather useless to write a gripping narrative with nothing in it but climate change because novels are always about people even if they purport to be about rabbits or robots. They’re still really about people because that’s who we are and that’s what we write stories about.”

But if anyone reads my book and it inspires them to say to themselves, “Holy sh*t, this really sounds bad. Could any of this actually happen? Hey, I heard there’s a rally going on in the town square on Sunday. Maybe I should go see what they have to say…”

Well, I’d be just fine with that.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Thousands Rally to Demand Freedom for Puerto Rican Activist Mon, 01 Jun 2015 15:46:25 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida 0 Iran Sanctions Regime Could Unravel with Failed Nuclear Deal Tue, 26 May 2015 23:29:12 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey Representatives from Iran and the P5+1 pose for photos after talks concluded in Lausanne, Switzerland on April 2, 2015. Credit: US State Dept/public domain

Representatives from Iran and the P5+1 pose for photos after talks concluded in Lausanne, Switzerland on April 2, 2015. Credit: US State Dept/public domain

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, May 26 2015 (IPS)

Internationally supported sanctions against Iran could begin to crumble if talks over Iran’s nuclear programme fail to produce a final deal, according to Germany’s envoy to the United States.

“The alternatives to the diplomatic approach are not very attractive,” said Ambassador Peter Wittig Tuesday.“The alternatives to the diplomatic approach are not very attractive." -- German Ambassador Peter Wittig.

“If diplomacy fails, the sanctions regime might unravel…and we would probably see Iran enriching once again as it has done before the negotiations started,” said the diplomat during a panel discussion in Washington at the Atlantic Council.

The sanctions that have ravaged the Iranian economy face far less risk, however, if Tehran were seen as responsible for the failure, according to the United Kingdom’s envoy to the U.S.

“If there is not a deal because the Iranians simply will not live up to [their obligations] or [fail to] implement…then I think we carry on with the sanctions regime and in certain areas it may be right to try to raise the level of those sanctions,” said Ambassador Peter Westmacott.

But Westmacott agreed with his German counterpart that if Iran were not to blame, the sanctions regime could fall apart.

“At the same time, if we were to walk away or if the [U.S.] Congress was to make it impossible for the agreement to be implemented…then I think the international community would be pretty reluctant, frankly, to contemplate a ratcheting up further of the sanctions against Iran,” he said.

“A number of countries” already “don’t respect” sanctions and are buying Iranian oil, he added.

Looming Deadline

Ahead of the June 30 deadline for reaching a final deal, Iran will resume the negotiations with representatives from the P5+1 or E3+3 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) Wednesday in the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear program have been ongoing since 2003, when France, Germany and the United Kingdom (the E3) began to engage Iran in an attempt to limit its nuclear programme.

Iran contends its programme has always been peaceful. The United States intelligence community has assessed that Iran was previously working towards mastering the nuclear fuel cycle, but has not restarted a nuclear weapons program.

“It’s a political decision for them. Not that they don’t have the technical wherewithal, the technical competence, because they do,” said the U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper March 2 on PBS’ “Charlie Rose” show.

Although Iran and its negotiating partners have made several historic diplomatic strides since an interim nuclear agreement was reached 2013 in Geneva—notably the ongoing high-level direct contact between previously hostile Tehran and Washington—the talks have yet to produce a final deal.

It’s unclear how much progress has actually been made in the complex private negotiations since a preliminary framework agreement was declared on April 2, but the parties are currently in the drafting phase.

The French ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud, wasn’t optimistic here Tuesday.

“It’s very likely that we won’t have an agreement before the end of June or even (right) after,” he said.

“Even if we get the best deal … afterwards, you will have to translate it into the technical annexes, so it may be … we could have a sort of fuzzy end to the negotiation,” he added.

High Stakes

While domestic politics in the key capitals of Tehran and Washington could ultimately prove to be the greatest barriers to a final deal, all sides seem to be waiting until after the deadline to make more moves.

But patience is running thin among key Iranian and American lawmakers, who have made no secret of their opposition to the talks. If no deal is reached by Jun. 30, the door to a wave of domestic criticism in both capitals will once again be wide open.

Peter Jenkins, who previously served as the U.K.’s permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations, told IPS that even if Iran were blamed for the breakdown of the talks, it wouldn’t end up totally isolated.

“I doubt the non-Western world will be ready to believe that the blame for a break-down lies solely with Iran,” said Jenkins.

“They will suspect that some of the blame should be ascribed to the U.S. and E.U. for making demands that go well beyond the requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. So those of them that have been applying sanctions may break away,” he said.

“In the West, however, most countries will believe what the U.S. instructs them to believe and will continue to apply sanctions if required to do so by the U.S.,” he added.

As for an impending blame-game, Jenkins said the stakes are too high for everyone to submit to a complete breakdown at this point: “I think it much more likely that they will make a herculean effort to cobble together an agreement over the ensuing weeks.”

“Both sides have so much to gain from an agreement and so much to lose if they squander all that they have achieved to date,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The Crisis of the Left and the Decline of Europe and the United States Tue, 19 May 2015 11:07:04 +0000 Roberto Savio

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that neoliberal thinking, which has failed to meet an adequate response from the left, and lack of political vision has led to the decline of Europe and the United States.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 19 2015 (IPS)

The victory of the Conservative Party and the debacle of the Labour Party in the recent British general elections is yet another sign of the crisis facing left-wing forces today, leaving aside the question of how, under the British electoral system, the Labour Party actually increased the number of votes it won but saw a reduction in the number of seats it now holds in Parliament (24 seats less than the previous 256).

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

If the proportional rather than uninominal system had been used, the Conservative Party with its 11 million votes would have won 256 and not 331 seats in Parliament (far short of the absolute majority of 326 needed to govern), while at the other extreme the United Kingdom Independence Party with nearly four million votes would have landed 83 and not just the one seat it ended up with – results that would be hard to imagine anywhere else and a good example of insularity.

To an extent, the recent British general elections mirrored the U.S. presidential elections in 2000 when Democratic candidate Al Gore won around half a million more popular votes than Republican candidate George W. Bush but failed to win the majority of electoral college votes on which the U.S. system is based. The outcome was eight years of George W.  Bush administration, the war in Iraq, the crisis of multilateralism, and all the paraphernalia of “America’s exceptional destiny”.

Let us venture now into an analysis that will have the politologues among us cringing.“The left has tried to mimic the winners, instead of trying to be an alternative to the process of neoliberal globalisation and, since the beginning of the world financial crisis in 2008 … it has had no real answer to the crisis”

It is now generally recognised that the end of the Soviet Union has given free way to a kind of capitalism without control, marked by an unprecedented supremacy of finance which, in terms of volume of investments, overwhelmingly exceeds the real or productive economy.

In its wake, neoliberal thinking has found the left totally unprepared, because part of its function had been to provide a democratic alternative to Communism, which was suddenly no longer a threat.

The left therefore has tried to mimic the winners, instead of trying to be an alternative to the process of neoliberal globalisation and, since the beginning of the world financial crisis in 2008 (with its bail-out cost so far of over four trillion dollars), it has had no real answer to the crisis.

Ever since the industrial revolution, the identity of the left had been to press for social justice, equality of opportunities and redistribution, while the right placed the emphasis on individual efforts, less role for the state and success as motivation.

Continuing with this brutal simplification, we have to add that the left, from Marx to Keynes, always studied how to create economic growth and redistribution – Marx by abolishing private property, social democrats through just taxation.

But it never studied the creation of a progressive agenda in the event case of an economic crisis such as the one we are now facing, with structural unemployment, young people obliged  to accept any kind of contract, new technologies which are making the concept of classes disappear, and rendering trade unions – erstwhile powerful actors for social justice – irrelevant.

It is unprecedented that the top 25 hedge fund managers received a reward in 2014 of 11.62 billion dollars, yet neither U.S. President Barack Obama nor Ed Miliband, then still leader of the Labour Party at the recent British general elections (until he resigned after election defeat), saw it fit to denounce this obscene level of greed.

Meanwhile, Europe as a political project is clearly in disarray, and now faces a “Grexit” on its southern flank and a “Brexit” on its northern flank.

In the case of a “Grexit” (the possible abandonment of the European Union by Greece), Greece faces the prospects of having to make substantial concessions to Europe, thus reneging on the promises of Alexis Tsipras who was voted in as prime minister in rebellion against years of dismantlement of public and social structures imposed in the name of austerity.

What is at stake here is the very neoliberal model itself and not only is ordoliberal Germany supported by allies like Austria, Finland and the Netherlands erecting a wall against any form of leniency, but countries which accepted painful cuts and where conservatives are now in power, like Spain, Portugal and Ireland, see leniency as giving in to the left.

A “Brexit” (the possible abandonment of the European Union by Britain) is a different affair. It is a game being played by British Prime Minister David Cameron to negotiate a more favourable agreement for Britain with the European Union.

A referendum will be held before the end of 2017 and the four million people who voted for the UKIP in the recent elections, plus the country’s “Euro-sceptics”, threaten to push Britain out of the European Union, especially if Cameron does not manage to obtain some substantial concessions from Brussels.

Meanwhile, if Europe is in disarray, the United States has a serious problem of governance. Analyst Moisés Naím, who served as editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine from 1996 to 2010, has pinpointed a few examples of how this has translated into self-inflicted damage.

One concerns China which, after waiting five years trying to get the Republican-dominated Congress to authorise and increase in its stake in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from a ridiculous 3.8 percent to 6 percent (compared with the 16.5 percent of the United States), got fed up and established an alternative fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Washington tried unsuccessfully to kill the initiative by putting pressure on its allies but first the United Kingdom, then Italy, Germany and France announced their participation in the new bank, which now has 50 member countries and the United States is not one of them.

Another example was the attempt by the Republican-dominated Congress to kill the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) which has provided support for U.S exporters to the tune of 570 billion dollars since it was set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934.  In just the last two years, China has provided 670 billion dollars in support for its exporters. Moral of the story: U.S. companies will be at a clear disadvantage.

As Larry Summers, a great proponent of U.S. hegemony, put it, “the US will not be in a position to shape the global economic system”.

The latest snub to the U.S. role of world leader came from four Arab heads of state who snubbed a U.S.-Gulf States summit at Camp David on May 14. The summit had been called by Obama to reassure the Gulf states that the ongoing negotiations with Iran over a nuclear agreement would not diminish their relevance, but the rulers of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain deserted the summit.

However, there is no more striking example of mistake-making than the joint effort by the United States and Europe to push Russian President Vladimir against the wall over his engagement in Ukraine by imposing heavy sanctions.

There was no apparent reflection on the wisdom of encircling a paranoid and autocratic leader, albeit one with strong popular support, by progressively also bringing in all Eastern and Central European countries. The result of this encirclement of Russia is that China has now come to the rescue of Russia, by injecting money into the country’s asphyxiated economy.

China will invest around six billion dollars in the construction of a high speed railway between Moscow and Kazan, is financing a 2,700 kilometre pipeline for the supply of 30 billion cubic metres of Russian gas over a period of 30 years, plus several other projects, including the establishment of a two billion dollar common fund for investments and a loan of 860 million dollars to the Russian Sberbank bank.

So, the net result is that Russia has been pushed out of Europe and into the arms of China, and the two are now starting joint naval and military manoeuvres.  Is this in the interest of Europe?

At the end of the day, the decline of Europe and the United States perhaps comes down to a decline of political vision, with democracy being substituted by partocracy, and the statesman of yesteryear being substituted by very much more modest and self-referential political leaders.

This is all taking place amid a growing disaffection with politics, which is now aimed basically at administrative choices, making corruption easy. At least this is what around one-third of electors now appear to believe when they are asked if they think that they can make a difference at elections … and this is why a rapidly growing number of people are deserting the ballot box. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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U.S. Hosts Arms Bazaar at White House Arab Summit Fri, 15 May 2015 18:24:13 +0000 Thalif Deen U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia on Mar. 5, 2015, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before the two and their counterparts attended a meeting of the regional Gulf Cooperation Council. Credit: U.S. State Department/public domain

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia on Mar. 5, 2015, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before the two and their counterparts attended a meeting of the regional Gulf Cooperation Council. Credit: U.S. State Department/public domain

By Thalif Deen

When the United States sells billions of dollars in sophisticated arms to Arab nations, they are conditioned on two key factors: no weapons with a qualitative military edge over Israel will ever be sold to the Arabs, nor will they receive any weapons that are not an integral part of the U.S. arsenal.

But against the backdrop of a White House summit meeting of Arab leaders at Camp David this week, the administration of President Barack Obama confessed it has dispensed with rule number two.“This raises some major questions about the seeming lack of arms control in the region and the potential risks of further one-sided procurement of advanced weapons by GCC states." -- Pieter Wezeman

According to Colin Kahl, national security advisor to Vice-President Joe Biden, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) flies the most advanced U.S.-made F-16 fighter planes in the world.

“They’re more advanced than the ones our Air Force flies,” he told reporters at a U.S. State Department briefing early this week, without going into specifics.

The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia – which participated in the summit were, not surprisingly, promised more weapons, increased military training and a pledge to defend them against missile strikes, maritime threats and cyberattacks from Iran.

An equally important reason for beefing up security in the region is to thwart any attacks on GCC countries by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“I am reaffirming our ironclad commitment to the security of our Gulf partners,” President Obama told reporters at a news conference, following the summit Thursday.

But he left the GCC leaders disappointed primarily because the United States was not willing to sign any mutual defence treaties with the six Arab nations – modeled on the lines of similar treaties U.S. has signed with Japan and South Korea.

Still, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Kuwait (along with Pakistan) are designated “major non-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) allies.”

Kahl told reporters: “This administration has worked extraordinarily closely with the Gulf states to make sure they had access to state-of-the-art armaments.”

He said that although the U.S. has not entertained requests for F-35s, described as the most advanced fighter plane with the U.S. Air Force, “but keep in mind under this administration we moved forward on a package for the Saudis that will provide them the most advanced F-15 aircraft in the region.”

Taken as a whole, Kahl said, the GCC last year spent nearly 135 billion dollars on their defence, and the Saudis alone spent more than 80 billion dollars.

In comparison, the Iranians spent something like 15 billion dollars on their defence, said Kahl, trying to allay the fears of GCC countries, which have expressed strong reservations about an impending nuclear deal the U.S. and other big powers are negotiating with Iran.

Still, arms suppliers such as France and Britain have been feverishly competing with the United States for a share of the rising arms market in the Middle East, with continued turmoil in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen.

Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher, Arms and Military Expenditure Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS that GCC countries have long procured weapons from both the U.S. and several European countries.

Qatar is probably the one country in the GCC where U.S. military equipment makes up a low share of its military equipment and instead it has been more dependent on French, British and other European arms, he pointed out.

Last year, Qatar ordered a large amount of new arms from suppliers in Europe, the U.S. and Turkey, in which U.S. equipment was significantly more important than it had been in the decades before in Qatari arms procurement.

“None of the GCC countries has been mainly dependent on a single arms supplier in the past four to five decades. The U.S., UK and France have long been the main suppliers to the GCC, competing against each other,” he added.

In an article last week on the GCC summit, William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and a senior advisor to the Security Assistance Monitor, described it as “an arms fair, not diplomacy.”

He said the Obama administration, in its first five years in office, entered into formal agreements to transfer over 64 billion dollars in arms and defence services to GCC member states, with about three-quarters of that total going to Saudi Arabia.

He said items on offer to GCC states have included fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, radar planes, refueling aircraft, air-to-air missiles, armored vehicles, artillery, small arms and ammunition, cluster bombs, and missile defence systems.

On any given day, Kahl said, the United States has about 35,000 U.S. forces in the Gulf region.

“As I speak, the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is there. The USS Normandy Guided Missile Cruiser, the USS Milius Aegis ballistic missile defense destroyer, and a number of other naval assets are in the region,” he said.

“And we have 10 Patriot batteries deployed to the Gulf region and Jordan, as well as AN/TPY-2 radar, which is an extraordinarily powerful radar to be able to track missiles fired basically from anywhere in the region.”

The mission of all of these forces, he said, ”is to defend our partners, to deter aggression, to maintain freedom of navigation, and to combat terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.”

Still, in the spreading Middle East arms market, it is business as usual both to the French and the British.

Wezeman told IPS Qatar has acquired the Rafale to replace its Mirage-2000 aircraft which France supplied about 20 years ago.

The UAE has been considering the purchase of Rafale to replace Mirage-2000 aircraft procured about 10 years ago from France.

Similarly Saudi Arabia has in the past decade ordered British Typhoon combat aircraft and U.S. F-15SAs, just like it ordered British Tornado combat aircraft and U.S. F-15Cs in the 1980s and 1990s.

Oman has recently ordered U.S. F-16s and British Typhoon aircraft to replace older U.S. F-16s and replace UK supplied Jaguar aircraft.

“The same arms acquisition patterns can be seen for land and naval military equipment. It would be a real change if the GCC countries would start large-scale procurement of arms from Russia and China. This has, however, not yet happened,” said Wezeman, who scrupulously tracks weapons sales to the Middle East.

He said access to certain technology has occasionally been one of several reasons for the GCC countries turning to Europe, as the United States tried to maintain a so-called ‘Qualitative Military Edge’ for Israel, in which it refused to supply certain military technology to Arab states which was considered particularly threatening to Israel.

He said for a while the U.S. was not willing to supply air launched cruise missiles with ranges of about 300 km to Arab states. Instead Saudi Arabia and the UAE turned to the UK and France for such weapons and the aircraft to integrate them on.

However, the U.S. has now become less restrictive in this regard and has agreed to supply certain types of cruise missiles to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Finally, what is particularly interesting is that U.S. officials once again emphasise the military imbalance in the Gulf region when mentioning that GCC states’ military spending is an estimated nine times higher than that of Iran (figures which are roughly confirmed by SIPRI data).

“This raises some major questions about the seeming lack of arms control in the region and the potential risks of further one-sided procurement of advanced weapons by GCC states,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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U.S. Failings Exposed in U.N. Human Rights Review Tue, 12 May 2015 22:51:38 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila The human rights exam in Geneva complained that U.S. President Barack Obama has failed to keep his promise to close down the Guantánamo military base. Credit: Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Navy

The human rights exam in Geneva complained that U.S. President Barack Obama has failed to keep his promise to close down the Guantánamo military base. Credit: Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Navy

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, May 12 2015 (IPS)

Without the emperor’s clothes, like in the Hans Christian Andersen story, the United States was forced to submit its human rights record to the scrutiny of the other 192 members of the United Nations on Monday.

Washington attended the country’s second universal periodic review (UPR) in the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, which reviews each U.N. member country’s compliance with international human rights standards.
“So today was a demonstration of the no confidence vote that world opinion has made of the United States as a country that considers itself a human rights champion,” said Jamil Dakwar, director of the Human Rights Program (HRP) of the American Civil Liberties Union, a non-profit organisation that has worked to defend individual rights and liberties since 1920.

“I think that there was a clear message from today’s review that the United States needs to do much more to protect human rights and to bring its laws and policies in line with human rights standards,” he told IPS.

Although the UPR has come in for criticism because its conclusions are negotiated among governments, it is recognised for starkly revealing the abuses that states commit against their own citizens and those of other countries – and the Monday May 11 session was no exception.

One of the demands set forth by the 117 states taking part in the debate was for Washington to take measures to prevent acts of torture in areas outside the national territory under its effective control and prosecute perpetrators, and to ensure that victims of torture were afforded redress and assistance.

With respect to torture, among the positive achievements mentioned was the release of a report on abuses committed as part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) interrogation practices.

The head of the 20-member U.S. delegation that flew over from Washington, acting legal adviser in the State Department Mary McLeod, gave an indication that the negotiations for the visit by Juan Méndez, U.N. special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay were not closed.

In March, Méndez, an Argentine lawyer who lives in the United States, complained that Washington did not intend to give him access during his visit to the more than 100 inmates in Guantanamo.

The country’s closest ally, the United Kingdom, congratulated the United States on its commitment to close Guantanamo, announced by President Barack Obama before his first term began in January 2009. But the British delegate said they would like to see it actually happen.

“The problem with Guantanamo is that it created a system of indefinite detention that we would like to see shut down with the facility,” Dakwar said. “It also created a flawed system of military commissions that provide a second system of justice. This system should also be shut down.”

Ejim Dike, executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network, said the concerns brought to the attention of the U.S. delegation revolved around issues of poverty, criminalisation and violence.

“In the United States we have more money today than we ever had. We have the highest child poverty rate of any industrialised country. However, for the UPR no one from the government mentioned poverty,” Dike commented to IPS.

The Cuban delegates addressed the issue, urging the United States to guarantee the right of all residents to decent housing, food, healthcare and education, in order to reduce the poverty that affects 48 million of the country’s 319 million people.

A number of countries asked the United States to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in effect since 1976 and considered one of the pillars of the U.N. human rights system.

They also pointed out that the United States has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Nor has it ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Furthermore, it has not recognised the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, or the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) conventions on forced labour, minimum age for admission to employment, domestic workers, and discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

McLeod also said that her country is not currently considering the ratification of the Rome Statute, which created the International Criminal Court.

Dakwar said the debate in the UPR highlighted “the issue of the lack of a fair criminal justice system that is being demonstrated through the stops and frisks, racial profiling, racial studies in the death penalty. You see it in the police violence and killing of unarmed African-Americans with no accountability.

“Its inhuman and unfair system of immigration needs to again be brought in line with human rights…That means…no detention of migrants, and ending migrants’ family detention,” he added.

Another of the main recommendations to the United States is that it desist from targeted killings through drones.

“The United States continues to violate human rights in the name of national security and it needs to roll back these policies and bring them in line with the U.S. constitution and international law,” Dakwar argued.

“Also in the domestic system we have surveillance of Muslim communities. There is a guidance by the Department of Justice that they allow the use of informants within communities, particularly Muslim and Middle Eastern communities,” he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Press Freedom Groups Denounce NSA Spying on AJ Bureau Chief Tue, 12 May 2015 18:14:45 +0000 Kitty Stapp A slide dated June 2012 from a National Security Agency PowerPoint presentation bears Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan’s photo, name, and a terror watch list identification number, and labels him a “member of Al-Qa’ida” as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. It also notes that he “works for Al Jazeera.” Courtesy of the Intercept

A slide dated June 2012 from a National Security Agency PowerPoint presentation bears Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan’s photo, name, and a terror watch list identification number, and labels him a “member of Al-Qa’ida” as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. It also notes that he “works for Al Jazeera.” Courtesy of the Intercept

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, May 12 2015 (IPS)

Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan doesn’t deny that he’s had contact with terrorist groups. In fact, it would have been rather difficult to do his job otherwise.

But the fact that Zaidan is a respected investigative journalist and the Islamabad bureau chief for Al Jazeera didn’t seem to faze the U.S. National Security Agency, which not only spied on him, but went as far as to brand him a likely member of Al Qaeda and put him on a watch list.“This is the reality under which we live. Government agencies are relatively autonomous and attempts to control them are ludicrous." -- Bob Dietz of CPJ

The revelations emerged late last week as part of the thousands of classified documents leaked by former NSA employee Edward Snowden.

“Given that Pakistan has been consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, the news of Zaidan’s surveillance further adds to the fear, restricting press freedom,” said Furhan Hussain, manager of the Digital Rights and Freedom of Expression programme at Bytes for All, a Pakistani human rights group.

“Equally alarming, in this case, is the fact that by compromising the information of respected journalists, such spying also weakens the safety of their sources and media networks,” he told IPS. “Zaidan’s communications intercept took place through the invasive gathering and analysis of his metadata, a technique which has been frequently responsible for drone-led non-transparent persecution of hundreds of people.

“While it is often claimed that the state of Pakistan has failed to effectively protest against these violations, it may also be important to raise questions about the possible role of the state in facilitating the NSA to access vast amounts of data of those residing within its borders, in the context of its third-party SIGINT partnership.”

Other press freedom groups said the case was just one more in a long-running pattern of civil liberties abuses.

“Given the flood of disclosures over the past two years about the NSA’s vast range of mass and intrusive surveillance techniques and targets, it is unsurprising, but nevertheless shocking, that the intelligence agency thought it appropriate to use its capabilities to spy on an eminent journalist,” Carly Nyst, Legal Director of Privacy International, told IPS.

“This case is illustrative of the grave dangers of allowing security services to exercise immense powers in the absence of proper scrutiny. By placing members of the media, who themselves play an essential accountability role, particularly in areas of conflict, under surveillance, the NSA has undermined the very values it is charged with promoting – security, democracy, and free flow of information.

“Without democratic accountability, spy agencies will continue to sacrifice civil liberties in the name of strategic gain, without sparing a thought to the critical journalistic freedom caught in the cross hairs,” she added.

It’s not the first time the NSA has targeted Al Jazeera. Based on leaked documents, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported in 2009 that it had hacked into the news agency’s internal communication system.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, NSA whistleblower Russell Tice claimed in 2009 that in fact, the agency makes it a point to target journalists and news agencies.

Zaidan was targeted under the ominously titled SKYNET programme, which monitors bulk call records and searches the metadata for particular patterns.

“It’s this kind of big, sweeping data gathering that worries us the most,” Bob Dietz, Asia programme coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told IPS.

“If someone were to track my behavior and all the people I’ve come into contact with over the last 20 years, I imagine I would come up on some sort of chart ranking very high,” he said wryly.

Dietz doesn’t expect the situation to change anytime soon, regardless of who occupies the White House.

“This is the reality under which we live. Government agencies are relatively autonomous and attempts to control them are ludicrous…whether or not there are laws protecting us,” he said.

Thomas Hughes, executive director of the London-based ARTICLE 19, said his group is deeply concerned by the Zaidan spying revelations.

“According to statements from Al Jazeera and colleagues from other networks, Zaidan is a journalist of longstanding professional reputation. Surveillance of journalists has a serious chilling effect on freedom of expression, impeding the crucial role journalists play in uncovering wrongdoing and holding governments to account for their actions,” he told IPS.

“Compromising the confidentially of sources also seriously undermines the ability of journalists to perform their work and potentially endangers the wellbeing and safety of those sources.”

Indeed, as noted by the Intercept, which broke the allegations, Zaidan’s reporting focused on the Taliban and Al Qaeda, including several high-profile interviews with senior Al Qaeda leaders.

In strenuously denying the allegations, he patiently explained, “For us to be able to inform the world, we have to be able to freely contact relevant figures in the public discourse, speak with people on the ground, and gather critical information.

“Any hint of government surveillance that hinders this process is a violation of press freedom and harms the public’s right to know,” he wrote in a response to the Intercept. “To assert that myself, or any journalist, has any affiliation with any group on account of their contact book, phone call logs, or sources is an absurd distortion of the truth and a complete violation of the profession of journalism.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Analysis: Global Politics at a Turning Point – Part 2 Sun, 10 May 2015 11:35:42 +0000 Prem Shankar Jha

Prem Shankar Jha is an eminent Indian journalist based in New Delhi. He is also the author of numerous books, including The Twilight of the Nation State: Globalisation, Chaos, and War (2006). In this two-part analysis, he puts the April nuclear framework agreement reached between the United States and Iran in context.

By Prem Shankar Jha
NEW DELHI, May 10 2015 (IPS)

In the following months, reports of the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces multiplied. The most serious was an allegation that the Syrian army had used sarin gas on Mar. 19, 2013 at Khan al Assal, north of Aleppo, and in a suburb of Damascus against its opponents. This was followed by two more allegations of small attacks in April.

Prem Shankar Jha

Seymour Hersh has reported that in May 2013, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan visited Obama, accompanied by his intelligence chief, and pressed him to live up to his “red line” commitment to punish Syria if it used chemical weapons.

But by then U.S. intelligence knew, and had conveyed to Barack Obama,  that it was Turkey’s secret service, MIT, that had been working with the Nusra front to set up facilities to  manufacture sarin, and had obtained two kilograms of the deadly gas for it from Eastern Europe, with funds provided by Qatar. Obama therefore remained unmoved.

Israel’s role in the planned destruction of Syria was to feed false intelligence to the U.S. administration and lawmakers to persuade them that Syria deserved to be destroyed.

On May 13, 2013, Republican Senator John McCain paid a surprise visit to Idlib on the Syria-Turkey border to meet whom he believed were moderate leaders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Photos and videos posted on the web after the visit and resurrected after the rise of the Islamic States (IS) showed that two of the five leaders whom he actually met were Mohammed Nour, the spokesman of ‘Northern Storm’ an offshoot of the brutal Jabhat Al Nusra, and Ammar al Dadhiki, aka Abu Ibrahim, a key member of the organisation. The third was Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, known as the ‘Caliph of the Islamic State’.“Israel’s role in the planned destruction of Syria was to feed false intelligence to the U.S. administration and lawmakers to persuade them that Syria deserved to be destroyed”

The visit had been organised by Salim Idris, self-styled Brigadier General of the FSA, and the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), a U.S. not-for-profit organisation that is a passionate advocate for arming the ‘moderate’ FSA.

McCain probably did not know whom he was meeting , but the same could not be said of Idris and SETF, because when McCain met them, Nusra was already on the banned list  and Baghdadi was on the U.S. State Department’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, with a reward of 10 million dollars on his head. What is more, by then he had been the Emir of IS for the previous six weeks.

As for the SETF, investigations of its connections by journalists after the McCain videos went viral on the internet showed a deep connection to AIPAC.  Until these exposure made it ‘correct’ its web page, one of its email addresses was “”.

The “” URL belongs to the Torah Academy of Boca Raton, Florida, whose academic goals notably include “inspiring a love and commitment to Eretz Yisroel [Land of Israel] .” SETF’s director was also closely associated with AIPC’s think tank, the Washington Institute of Near East Policy (WINEP).

When Obama ‘postponed’ the attack on Syria on the grounds that he had to obtain the approval of Congress first, Israel’s response was blind fury.

Obama had informed Netanyahu of his decision on Aug. 30, four hours before he referred it to Congress and bound him to secrecy. But Netanyahu’s housing minister, Uri Ariel, gave full vent to it the next morning in a radio interview, saying: “You don’t have to wait until tens of thousands more children die before intervening in Syria.”

Ariel went on to say; “When you throw gas at the population, it means you know you’re going to murder thousands of women, children indiscriminately. [Syrian President Bashar Assad] is a murderous coward. Take him out.”

Netanyahu reprimanded Ariel because he did not want Israel to be seen to be pushing the United States into war, but by then there was no room left for doubt that this is exactly what he and his government had been trying to do.

For, on Aug. 27, alongside U.S. foreign minister John Kerry’s denunciation of the Ghouta sarin gas attack, the right-wing daily, Tims of Israel, had published three stories quoting defence officials, titled ‘Israeli intelligence seen as central to US case against Syria’; IDF intercepted Syrian regime chatter on chemical attack’; and, significantly, For Israel US response on Syria may be a harbinger for Iran’.

The hard “information” that had tilted the balance was contained in the second story: a retired Mossad agent who refused to be named, told another German magazine, Focus, that a squad specialising in wire-tapping within the IDF’s elite ‘8200 intelliogence unit’ had intercepted a conversation between high-ranking officials discussing the sue of chemical agents at the time of the attack.

The similarity of method between this and the earlier leak to Der Spiegel makes it likely that it too was part of an Israeli disinformation campaign designed to trigger a fatal assault on Assad.

Obama gave his first hint that he intended to reverse the [George W.] Bush doctrine while talking to reporters on a tour of Asia in April 2014: “Why is it,” he observed, “that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve gone through a decade of war at enormous cost to our troops and our budget?”

He unveiled the change in a graduation day speech at West Point on May 28, 2014. “Here’s my bottom line”, he said. ”America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership.

“But U.S. military action cannot be the only – or even primary – component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.

“And because the costs associated with military action are so high, you should expect every civilian leader – and especially your Commander-in-Chief – to be clear about how that awesome power should be used.”

Obama’s choice of venue was not accidental, because it was here that Bush had announced the United States’ first strike security doctrine 12 years earlier.

Obama’s repudiation of the Bush doctrine sent a ripple of shock running through the U.S. political establishment. Republicans denounced him for revealing America’s weakness and emboldening its enemies. But a far more virulent denunciation came from Hilary Clinton, the front runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2016.

“Great nations need strong organising principles”, she said in an interview with The Atlantic, “’Don’t do stupid stuff’ (Obama’s favourite phrase) is not an organising principle.”

Netanyahu got the message: he may have lost the U.S. president, but Israel’s, more specifically the Israeli right’s, constituency in the United States remained undented. No matter which party came to power in the next election, he could continue his tirade against Iran and be guaranteed a sympathetic hearing.

Since then he has barely bothered to hide his contempt for Obama and spared no effort to turn him, prematurely, into a lame duck President.

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

* The first part of this two-part analysis can be accessed here.

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Analysis: Global Politics at a Turning Point – Part 1 Sun, 10 May 2015 10:53:11 +0000 Prem Shankar Jha

Prem Shankar Jha is an eminent Indian journalist based in New Delhi. He is also the author of numerous books, including The Twilight of the Nation State: Globalisation, Chaos, and War (2006). In this two-part analysis, he puts the April nuclear framework agreement reached between the United States and Iran in context.

By Prem Shankar Jha
NEW DELHI, May 10 2015 (IPS)

President Barack Obama’s Nowroz greeting to the Iranian people earlier this year was the first clear indication to the world that the United States and Iran were very close to agreement on the contents of the nuclear agreement they had been working towards for the previous 16 months.

In contrast to two earlier messages which were barely veiled exhortations to Iranians to stand up to their obscurantist leaders, Obama urged “the peoples and the leaders of Iran” to avail themselves of “the best opportunity in decades to pursue a different relationship between our countries.”

Prem Shankar Jha

This moment, he warned, “may not come again soon (for) there are people in both our countries and beyond, who oppose a diplomatic solution.”

Barely a fortnight later that deal was done. Iran had agreed to a more than two-thirds reduction in the number of centrifuges it would keep, although a question mark still hung over the timing of the lifting of sanctions against it. The agreement came in the teeth of opposition from hardliners in both Iran and the United States.

Looking back at Obama’s unprecedented overtures to Iran, his direct phone call to President Hassan Rouhani – the first of its kind in 30 years – and his letter to Ayatollah Khamenei in November last year, it is clear in retrospect that they were products of  a rare meeting of minds between him and  Rouhani and their foreign ministers John Kerry and Muhammad Jawad Zarif that may have occurred as early as  their first meetings in September 2013.

The opposition to the deal within the United States proved a far harder obstacle for Obama to surmount. The reason is the dogged and increasingly naked opposition of Israel and the immense influence of the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) on U.S. policymakers and public opinion.

Both of these were laid bare came when the Republican party created constitutional history by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address  a joint session of Congress  without informing the White House, listened raptly to his diatribe against Obama, and sent a deliberately insulting letter to Ayatollah Khamenei in a bid to scuttle the talks.

Obama has ploughed on in the teeth of this formidable, highly personalised, attack on him  because he has learnt from the bitter experience of the past four years what Harvard professors John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt had exposed in their path-breaking  book, ‘The Israel lobby and American Foreign Policy’ in 2006.“Quietly, and utterly alone, Obama decided to reverse the drift, return to diplomacy as the first weapon for increasing national security and returning force to where it had belonged in the previous three centuries, as a weapon of last resort”

This was the utter disregard for America’s national interest and security with which Israel had been manipulating American public opinion, the U.S. Congress and successive U.S. administrations, in pursuit of its own security, since the end of the Cold War.

By the end of 2012, two years into the so-called “Arab Spring”, Obama had also discovered how cynically Turkey and the Wahhabi-Sunni sheikhdoms had manipulated the United States into joining a sectarian vendetta against Syria, and created and armed a Jihadi army whose ultimate target was the West itself.

Nine months later, he found out how Israel had abused the trust the United States reposed in it, and come within a hairsbreadth of pushing it into an attack on Syria that was even less justifiable than then U.S. President George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.  And then the murderous eruption of the Islamic State (ISIS) showed him that the Jihadis were out of control.

Somewhere along this trail of betrayal and disillusionment, Obama experienced the political equivalent of an epiphany.

Twelve years of a U.S. national security strategy that relied on the pre-emptive use of force had  yielded war without end, a string of strategic defeats, a  mauled and traumatised army, mounting international debt and a collapsing hegemony reflected in the impunity with which the so-called friends of the United States were using it to serve their ends.

Quietly, and utterly alone, Obama decided to reverse the drift, return to diplomacy as the first weapon for increasing national security and returning force to where it had belonged in the previous three centuries, as a weapon of last resort. His meeting and discussions with Rouhani and Iranian foreign minister Zarif gave him the opportunity to begin this epic change of direction.

Obama faced his first moment of truth on Nov. 28, 2012 when a Jabhat al Nusra unit north of Aleppo brought down a Syrian army helicopter with a Russian man-portable surface-to-air missile (SAM).

The White House tried to  pretend that that the missile was from a captured Syrian air base, but by then U.S. intelligence agencies were fed up with its suppression and distortion of their intelligence and  leaked it to the Washington Post that 40 SAM missile batteries with launchers, along with hundreds of tonnes of other heavy weapons had been bought from Libya, paid for by Qatar, and transported to the rebels in Syria  by Turkey through a ‘rat line’ that the CIA had helped it to establish, to funnel arms and mercenaries into Syria.

A day that Obama had been dreading had finally arrived: heavy weapons that the United States and the European Union had expressly proscribed, because they could bring down civilian aircraft anywhere in the world, had finally reached Al Qaeda’s hands

But when Obama promptly banned the Jabhat Al Nusra, he got his second shock. At the next ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting in Marrakesh three weeks later, not only the   ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels that the United States had grouped under a newly-formed Syrian Military Council three months earlier, but all of its Sunni Muslim allies condemned the ban, while Britain and France remained silent.

Obama’s third, and worst, moment of truth came nine months later when a relentless campaign by  his closest ‘allies‘, Turkey and Israel, brought him to the verge of launching an all-out aerial attack  on Syria in September 2013 to punish it for “using gas on rebels and civilians in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus.”

Obama learned that Syria had done no such thing only two days before the attack was to commence, when the British informed him that soil samples collected from the site of the Ghouta attack and analysed at their CBW research laboratories at Porton Down, had shown that the sarin gas used in the attack could not possibly have been prepared by the Syrian army.

This was because the British had the complete list of suppliers from which Syria had received its precursor chemicals and these did not match the chemicals used in the sarin gas found in the Ghouta.

Had he gone through with the attack, it would have made Obama ten times worse than George Bush in history’s eyes.

Hindsight allows us to reconstruct how the conviction that Syria was using chemical weapons was implanted into policy-makers in the United States and the European Union.

On Sep. 17, 2012, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the highly-reputed German magazine Der Speigel, had learned, “quoting several eyewitnesses”, that Syria had tested delivery systems for chemical warheads   at a chemical weapons research centre near Aleppo in August, and that the tests had been overseen by Iranian experts.

Tanks and aircraft, Der Speigel reported, had fired “five or six empty shells capable of delivering poison gas.”

Since neither Der Speigel nor any other Western newspaper had, or still has, resident correspondents in Syria, it could only have obtained this report second or third-hand through a local stringer. This, and the wealth of detail in the report, suggests that the story of a test firing, while not necessarily untrue, was a plant by an intelligence agency. It therefore had to be taken with a large pinch of salt.

One person who not only chose to believe it instantly, but also to act on it was Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On Dec. 3, 2012, Haaretz reported that he had sent emissaries to Amman twice, in October and November, to request Jordan’s permission to overfly its territory to bomb Syria’s chemical weapons facilities.

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

* The second part of this two-part analysis can be accessed here.

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Police Killings Challenge U.S. “Exceptionalism” Wed, 06 May 2015 16:42:10 +0000 Kitty Stapp Washington DC, the evening of April 29. 2015. Activists and supporters affiliated with the #DCFerguson movement gathered in Chinatown for a march in solidarity with the Baltimore protests of the cop killing of African-American youth Freddie Gray. The DC event involved over a thousand marchers by the time it wound up in front of the White House. Credit: Stephen Melkisethian/cc by 2.0

Washington DC, the evening of April 29. 2015. Activists and supporters affiliated with the #DCFerguson movement gathered in Chinatown for a march in solidarity with the Baltimore protests of the cop killing of African-American youth Freddie Gray. The DC event involved over a thousand marchers by the time it wound up in front of the White House. Credit: Stephen Melkisethian/cc by 2.0

By Kitty Stapp

Since being roundly chastised last fall by the U.N. Committee Against Torture for excessive use of force by its law enforcement agencies, the United States hasn’t exactly managed to repair its international reputation.

Fatal beatings and shootings of African American and Latino citizens, mainly men, by the police have continued seemingly unabated, with the latest being the widely publicised case of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland. Gray, 25, died Apr. 19 of spinal cord injuries in what has been ruled a homicide after being arrested for allegedly carrying an illegal pocket knife. Six officers have since been charged in his murder."As the U.S. claims a human rights mantle and criticises others for racism, it becomes the world’s greatest hypocrite." -- Michael Ratner

The wave of cases – many caught on camera and shared via social media – have sparked a nationwide protest campaign grouped under the hashtag #blacklivesmatter.

On Nov. 28, a year after the Committee’s damning report, the U.S. must provide information on what it has done to follow up on its recommendations, which included prompt investigation and prosecution of police brutality cases and providing effective remedies and rehabilitation to the victims.

“The best way to begin to bring this racism and particular police murders to an end is by what we are seeing today: massive and militant demonstrations everywhere and shutting cities down,” Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS. “We are in a special moment that rarely occurs in this country; people are mobilised and in the streets. That is the key. Our cities cannot be governed without the consent of the governed.

“But of course there are other important elements as well. The platform the U.N. CAT offered for Blacks particularly to speak out was important, very important. It gave Michael Brown’s family an opportunity to be heard around the world as it did others. The conclusions of the committee were powerful and while the United States tried to ignore them, the world would not. The report gives international legitimacy to the protests we are seeing every day.”

Michael Brown was an unarmed Black teenager who was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. A grand jury refused to indict in his Aug. 9, 2014 death.

Brown’s parents testified before the U.N. committee in Geneva last year, and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein cited the case in condemning “institutionalised discrimination in the U.S.”

“The CAT report put pressure on the U.S. to do something and while its response was inadequate, the report’s findings can be seen as the beginning of the end for the belief both in the U.S. and abroad that the U.S. is a just society toward Blacks,” Ratner said.

“As the U.S. claims a human rights mantle and criticises others for racism, it becomes the world’s greatest hypocrite. Yes, the U.S. is the most powerful country and can ignore the U.N., but ultimately by doing so, it will be ignored.”

Ratner cited a previous instance that demonstrates how important the U.N. can be in this regard. In 1951, “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People” was submitted to the U.N. by the Civil Rights Congress and detailed the horrendous situation faced by American Blacks.

“It received huge international press. The U.S. realized that it could not call itself a democracy and claim it was better than Communist countries if racism was so embedded in its society. Three years later the Supreme Court ended school desegregation.

“While the report was not the only reason for that change, the point is that the U.N. and particularly the recent CAT committee report has pointed to serious defects in U.S. democracy and human rights. It’s hard after this report, although surely the U.S. will try, to criticise other countries’ human rights and not simply be laughed at.”

Because the U.S. is a state party to the Convention against Torture, it is regularly examined by the CAT committee. Its next report is due in November 2018, after which the date for the next review will be set. In general, these reviews happen every four or five years.

Alba Morales, a researcher for the U.S. Programme at Human Rights Watch, agrees that advocates have been able to use the international attention brought by these reports to strengthen their local work.

“Take the John Burge torture cases in Chicago, for example,” she told IPS. “Burge was a Chicago police officer commander who oversaw the torture hundreds of arrestees in that city. Chicago advocates worked for decades to obtain accountability for those acts of torture by police, and appeared before the U.N. Committee Against Torture in 2006.

“It was only after the U.N. Committee called for accountability in that case that the U.S. government took action, eventually indicting and convicting Burge of obstruction of justice. While this was the result of many years of local advocacy, the spotlight that the U.N. report shone on these cases also contributed to the outcome.”

Morales said that the United Nations can continue to welcome the voices of those directly affected by human rights violations everywhere, including in the U.S.

“The families of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis attended the last meeting of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Their testimony powerfully illustrated the racial discrimination that persists in the U.S. While none of these U.N. committees can enforce any judgements against the U.S. or any other country, having an international platform amplifies the voices of those who are working incredibly hard to improve the human rights situation in the U.S.”

Ratner noted that U.S. racial discrimination, backed by state violence, has a lengthy and deeply rooted history that dates back hundreds of years.

“Ending the police murders and brutal treatment of Black people in the United States is no easy task,” he said. “Many whites, particularly in law enforcement, are racist to the core. It is a racism that has a history since the early days of slavery and it is a racism that continues in many aspects of Black people’s lives.

“Once it was called slavery, then Jim Crow, then slavery by another name, then the new Jim Crow. Yet we all know this unequal and brutal treatment of Black people must end.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: The West and Its Self-Assumed Right to Intervene Mon, 04 May 2015 16:31:34 +0000 Roberto Savio

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the West, led by the United States, has taken on itself the right to intervene in the affairs of others and, in the case of the Arab world, has created situations that justify subsequent military interventions which have had a high cost in both human and financial terms.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 4 2015 (IPS)

The ‘West’ is a concept that flourished during the Cold War. Then it was West against East in the form of the Soviet empire. The East was evil against which all democratic countries – read West – were called on to fight.

I recall meeting Elliot Abrams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State during the Ronald Reagan administration, in 1982. He told me that at the point in history, the real West was the United States, with Europe a wavering ally, not really ready to go up to the point of entering into war with the  Soviet Union.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

When I tried to explain to him that the East-West denomination dated back to Roman times, long before the United States even existed, he brushed this aside, saying that the contemporary concept was that of those standing against the Soviet Empire, and the United States was the only power willing to do so.

The Reagan presidency changed the course of history, because he was against multilateralism, the United Nations and anything that could oblige the United States to accept what was not primarily in the interests of Washington. The fact that United States had a manifest destiny and was therefore a spokesperson for humankind and the idea that God was American were the bases of his rhetoric.

In one famous declaration, he went so far as asserting that United States was the only democratic country in the world.

After the end of the Cold War, President George W. Bush took up the Reagan rhetoric again. He declared that he was president because of God, which justified his intervention in Iraq, albeit based on false data about weapons of mass destruction (Abrams was also by his side). Now it turns out that he has an indirect responsibility for the creation of the Islamic State (IS).“The [Ronald] Reagan presidency changed the course of history, because he was against multilateralism, the United Nations and anything that could oblige the United States to accept what was not primarily in the interests of Washington”

All this starts in Iraq.  The first governor at the end of the U.S. invasion was retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner who did not last very long because his ideas about how to reconstruct Iraq were considered too lenient. He was replaced by U.S. diplomat Paul Bremer.

Bremer took two fateful decisions: to eliminate the Iraqi army, and to purge all those who were members of the Baath party from the administration, because they were connected to Saddam Hussein. This left thousands of disgruntled officers and a very inefficient administration.

Now we have learned that the mind behind the creation of IS was a former Iraqi colonel from the secret services of the Iraqi Air Force, Samir Abed Al-Kliifawi. The details of how he planned the takeover over of a part of Iraq (and Syria), have been published by Der Spiegel, which came to have access to documents found after his death. They reveal an organisation which is externally fanatic but internally cold and calculating.

After the invasion of Iraq, he was imprisoned by the Americans, and there he connected with several other imprisoned Iraq officers, all of them Sunnis, and started planning the creation of the Islamic State, which now has a number of former Iraqi army officers in its ranks. Without Bremer’s fateful decision, Al-Kliifawi would probably have continued in the Iraqi army.

What we also have to remember here is that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was rendered useless by the Cold War, and many saw its demise. However, it was given the war against Serbia as a new reason for existence, and the concept of the West, embodied in a military alliance, was kept alive.

According to a report by scholars with the ‘Costs of War’ project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, the terrible cost of the Iraqi invasion had been 2.2 trillion dollars by 2013, not to speak of 190,000 deaths. If we add Afghanistan, we reach the staggering amount of 4 trillion dollars – compared with the annual 6.4 trillion dollar total budget of all 28 members of the European Union – for “resolution” of the conflict.

One would have thought that after that experience, Europe would have desisted from invading Arab countries and aggravating its difficult internal financial balance sheet. Yet, Europe engaged in the destabilisation of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, leading to the explosion of Jihadists from there, 220,000 deaths and five million refugees.

In the case of Libya, under the prodding of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and the United Kingdom’s David Cameron, both for electoral reasons, Europe entered with the aim of eliminating Mu’ammar Gheddafi, then leaving  the country to its destiny. Now thousands of migrants are using Libya in the attempt to reach the shores of Europe and Cameron has decided to ignore any joint European action.

For some reason, Europe always follows United States, without further thinking. The case of Ukraine is the last of those bouts of somnambulism. It has invited Ukraine to join the European Union and NATO, prodding a paranoiac Putin (with the nearly unanimous support of his people), to act to finally stop the ongoing encirclement of the former Soviet republic.

The problem is that Europeans are largely ignorant of the Arab world. A few days ago, Italian police dismantled a Jihadist ring in Bergamo, a town in northern Italy, arresting among others an imam, or preacher, No Italian media took the pain to ascertain which version of Islam he was preaching. All spoke of an Islamic threat, with attacks being planned on the Vatican.

If they had looked with more care, they would have found out that he preached the Wahhabi version of Islam, which is the official version of Islam in Saudi Arabia, and which consider all other Muslims as apostates and infidels. This is very similar to IS, which has adopted its Wahhabi version of Islam, but is a far cry from equating Wahhabism with terrorism – all terrorists may be Wahhabis but not all Wahhabis are terrorists.

Saudi Arabia has already spent 87 billion dollars in promoting Wahhabism, has paid for the creation of 1,500 mosques, all staffed with Wahhabi imams, and continues to spend around three billion dollars a year to finance Jihadist groups in Syria, along with the other Gulf countries. This has made Assad an obliged target for the West, and he has succeeded in his claim: better me than chaos, a chaos that he has been also fomenting.

Now the debate is what to do in Libya and NATO is considering several military options. The stroke of luck this time is that U.S. President Barack Obama does not want to intervene. However, with the 28 countries of the European Union increasingly reclaiming their national sovereignty and seldom agreeing on anything, a military intervention is still in the air.

Meanwhile, thousands of refugees try crossing the Mediterranean every day (with the known number of deaths standing at over 20,000 people) to reach Europe, thus strengthening support for Europe’s xenophobic parties which are exploiting popular fear and rejection.

It is a pity that, according to United Nations projections, Europe needs at least an additional 20 million people to continue to be competitive … but this is politically impossible. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Q&A: Comprehensive Ban on Nuclear Testing, a ‘Stepping Stone’ to a Nuke-Free World Wed, 29 Apr 2015 17:28:36 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

With the four-week-long review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) underway at the United Nations, hopes and frustrations are running equally high, as a binding political agreement on the biggest threat to humanity hangs in the balance.

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Behind the headlines that focus primarily on power struggles between the five major nuclear powers – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – scores of organisations refusing to be bogged down in geopolitical squabbles are going about the Herculean task of creating a safer world.

One of these bodies is the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), founded in 1996 alongside the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), with the aim of independently monitoring compliance.

With 183 signatories and 164 ratifications, the treaty represents a milestone in international efforts to ban nuclear testing.

In order to be legally binding, however, the treaty needs the support of the 44 so-called ‘Annex 2 States’, eight of which have so far refused to ratify the agreement: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea and the United States.

This holdout has severely crippled efforts to move towards even the most basic goal of the nuclear abolition process.

Still, the CTBTO has made tremendous strides in the past 20 years to set the stage for full ratification.

Its massive global network of seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound and radionuclide detecting stations makes it nearly impossible for governments to violate the terms of the treaty, and the rich data generated from its many facilities is contributing to a range of scientific endeavors worldwide.

In an interview with IPS, CTBTO Executive Secretary Dr. Lassina Zerbo spoke about the organisation’s hopes for the review conference, and shared some insights on the primary hurdles standing in the way of a nuclear-free world.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What role will the CTBTO play in the conference?

"Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by [a] handful of countries [...]." -- Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO)
A: Our hope is that the next four weeks result in a positive outcome with regards to disarmament and non-proliferation, and we think the CTBT plays an important role there. The treaty was one of the key elements that led to indefinite extension of the NPT itself, and is the one thing that seems to be bringing all the state parties together. It’s a low-hanging fruit and we need to catch it, make it serve as a stepping-stone for whatever we want to achieve in this review conference.

For instance, we need to find a compromise between those who are of the view that we should move first on non-proliferation, and between those who say we should move equally, if not faster, on disarmament.

We also need to address the concerns of those who ask why nuclear weapons states are allowed to develop more modern weapons, while other states are prevented from developing even the basic technologies that could serve as nuclear weapons.

The CTBT represents something that all states can agree to; it serves as the basis for consensus on other, more difficult issues, and this is the message I am bringing to the conference.

Q: What have been some of the biggest achievement of the CTBTO? What are some of your most pressing concerns for the future?

A: The CTBTO bans all nuclear test explosions underwater, underground and in the air. We’ve built a network of nearly 300 stations for detecting nuclear tests, including tracking radioactive emissions.

Our international monitoring system has stopped horizontal proliferation (more countries acquiring nuclear weapons), as well as vertical proliferation (more advanced weapons systems).

That’s why some [states] are hesitant to consider ratification of the CTBT: because they are of the view that they still need testing to be able to maintain or modernise their stockpiles.

Any development of nuclear weapons happening today is based on testing that was done 20-25 years ago. No country, except for North Korea, has performed a single test in the 21st century.

Q: How do you deal with outliers like North Korea?

A: We haven’t had official contact with North Korea. I can only base my analysis on what world leaders are telling me. [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov has attempted to engage North Korea in discussions about the CTBT and asked if they would consider a moratorium on testing. Yesterday I met Yerzhan Ashikbayev, deputy foreign minister for Kazakhstan, which has bilateral relations with North Korea, and they have urgently called on North Korea to consider signature of the CTBT.

Those are the countries that can help us, those who have bilateral relations.

Having said this, if I’m invited to North Korea for a meeting that could serve as a basis for engaging in discussions, to help them understand more about the CTBT and the organizational framework and infrastructure that we’ve built: why not? I would be ready to do it.

We are also engaging states like Israel, who could take leadership in regions like the Middle East by signing onto the CTBT. I was just in Israel, where I asked the questions: Do you want to test? I don’t think so. Do you need it? I don’t think so. So why don’t you take leadership to open that framework that we need for confidence building in the region that could lead to more ratification and more consideration of a nuclear weapons-free zone or a WMD-free zone.

Israel now says that CTBT ratification is not an “if” but a “when” – I hope the “when” is not too far away.

Q: Despite scores of marches, thousands of petitions and millions of signatures calling for disarmament and abolition, the major nuclear weapons states are holding out. This can be extremely disheartening for those at the forefront of the movement. What would be your message to global civil society?

A: I would say, keep putting pressure on your political leaders. We need leadership to move on these issues. Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by the handful of countries [that have not ratified the treaty].

Only civil society can play a role in telling governments, “You’ve got to move because the majority of the world is saying ‘no’ to what you still have, and what you are still holding onto.” The CTBT is a key element for that goal we want to achieve, hopefully in our lifetime: a world free of nuclear weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Shift to Renewables Seems Inevitable, But Is It Fast Enough? Tue, 21 Apr 2015 18:34:24 +0000 Kitty Stapp Canada’s Erie Shores Wind Farm includes 66 turbines with a total capacity of 99 MW. Credit: Denise Morazé/IPS

Canada’s Erie Shores Wind Farm includes 66 turbines with a total capacity of 99 MW. Credit: Denise Morazé/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

Climate change may be one of the most divisive issues in the U.S. Congress today, but despite the staunch denialism of Republicans, experts say the global transition from fossil fuels to renewables is already well underway.

A new book published by the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute finds that a steep decline in the price of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels (by three-fourths between 2009 and 2014, to less than 70 cents a watt) has helped the industry grow 50 percent per year."If they truly want to keep their own jobs, our elected leaders will soon see ties with coal, oil and gas as a serious political liability.” -- Kyle Ash of Greenpeace USA

Wind power capacity grew more than 20 percent a year for the last decade, now totalling 369,000 megawatts, enough to power more than 90 million U.S. homes.

In China, electricity generation from wind farms now exceeds that from nuclear plants, while coal use appears to be peaking.

“Wind farms and solar PV systems will likely continue to anchor the growth of renewables,” Matthew Roney, a co-author of “The Great Transition”, told IPS. “They’re already well established, with costs continuing to drop, and their ‘fuels’ are widespread and abundant.”

With international initiatives like the U.N. Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All and new development goals in the offing, donors and policy-makers are looking to massively scale up these tried-and-true clean technologies.

“One of solar’s advantages is that not only is it increasingly competitive with the average cost of grid electricity around the world, it can make economic sense for many of the 1.3 billion people who do not yet have access to electricity,” Roney said.

The book also notes that 70 countries now have feed-in tariffs, a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies by offering long-term contracts to renewable energy producers. Another two dozen have renewable portfolio standards (RPS), 37 countries offer production or investment tax credits for renewables, and 40 countries are implementing or planning carbon pricing.

In the U.S., reliance on coal is dwindling – it fell 21 percent between 2007 and 2014 – and more than one-third of the nation’s coal plants have already closed or announced plans for future closure.

But according to Greenpeace and other civil society watchdog groups, the industry is trying to get a new lease on life by pushing so-called carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) – where waste carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured from large point sources, such as power plants, and transported to a storage site — what Greenpeace has dubbed a “Carbon Capture Scam.”

The Barack Obama administration advocates CCS as part of its “all of the above” energy strategy, the group says in a recent analysis, even though the government’s own projections show that it would cost almost 40 percent more per kilogramme of avoided carbon dioxide than solar photovoltaic, 125 percent more than wind and 260 percent more than geothermal.

“The most fair-weather politician, if honest, should agree that advocating for renewables is a winning campaign strategy,” Greenpeace USA legislative representative Kyle Ash told IPS.

“Do they really care about jobs? Do they really care about U.S. competitiveness and energy independence?” he asked. “The president and Congress have no shortage of reasons to acknowledge renewables are the only path forward when it comes to energy production. If they truly want to keep their own jobs, our elected leaders will soon see ties with coal, oil and gas as a serious political liability.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon rule requires that new coal plants capture CO2, and emphasises the CO2 be used to augment oil extraction. Oil rigs then pump the carbon dioxide underground so the oil expands and more is forced up the well.

Greenpeace says that rather than actually storing carbon, it comes right back up the well with the oil. Every major power plant CCS project in the United States intends to sell the scrubbed carbon to the oil extraction industry.

“We don’t just have statistics, technology, and climate science on our side – we have a growing body politic that is opposing fracking, tar sands, coal exports, and other ways an archaic industry is trying to hold on,” Ash said.

“CCS is really the last gasp of the political pandering to coal, an industry widely known to have been horrible to workers and horrible for the environment. What we should soon see is more pandering to workers and the environment.”

The Obama administration has won kudos from environmental groups, including Greenpeace, for at least acknowledging the problem. In a videotaped statement for Earth Day this year, the U.S. president declared that “Today, there’s no greater threat to our planet than climate change.”

The million-dollar question, most scientists say, is whether the transition to renewables will be fast enough to restrict warming to the benchmark two-degree increase by 2020, beyond which the consequences could be catastrophic.

“Although the adoption of renewable energy worldwide is moving in the right direction, more quickly than virtually anyone predicted even five years ago, the race is definitely not over yet,” Roney said. “Cutting into oil use by electrifying the transport sector is key, but electric vehicle adoption is not yet moving quickly enough to have a big impact.”

He noted that batteries, a major part of the price tag for an EV, are set to come down by half by 2020, according to UBS, making EVs fully competitive with conventional cars.

“At that point, buying an EV over a car that runs on gasoline will be a no-brainer, with up to 2,400 dollars in anticipated annual savings on gas. More broadly, pricing carbon would likely be the most effective way to accelerate the shift fast enough to keep climate change from spiraling out of control,” Roney said.

“The good news is that some 40 countries now have implemented or plan to implement carbon pricing, through a cap and trade system or carbon tax, including China. When its anticipated national cap and trade system begins in 2016, roughly a quarter of global carbon emissions will be priced—not nearly enough, but a decent start.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Foreign Fighter Recruits: Why the U.S. Fares Better than Others Fri, 17 Apr 2015 20:13:37 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

More than 25,000 fighters seeking to wage “jihad” or an Islamic holy war have left home to join terrorist networks abroad.

The foreign fighters, mostly bound for Islamic extremist groups like the Syria-based al-Nusra Front and the self-titled Islamic State (also in Iraq), come from more than 100 countries worldwide, according to a United Nations report released earlier this month.“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated." -- analyst Emile Nakhleh

While the highest numbers are from Middle Eastern and North African countries, Western countries have also seen foreign recruits.

Out of the top 15 source-Western countries listed in February by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (I.C.S.R.), France, as well as Germany and the United Kingdom have had the highest numbers (1,200 and 500-600 respectively). Only 100 foreign fighters have come from the United States.

Why has the U.S. seen such a lower number of recruits compared to its Western European allies?

Integration vs. alienation

“In this country, the law enforcement authorities have worked much more closely with Muslim communities so that now, some elements within the Muslim community follow the phrase ‘see something, say something,’” Emile Nakhleh, who founded the Central Intelligence Program’s (C.I.A.) Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, told IPS.

“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated,” said Nakhleh, a scholar and expert on the Middle East who retired from the C.I.A. in 2006.

While the majority of Muslims worldwide reject violent extremism and are worried about increasing rates in their home countries, American Muslims—an estimated 2-6 million who are mostly middle class and educated—reject extremism by larger margins than most Muslim publics.

A 2011 Pew Survey of Muslim Americans, the most current of its kind, found more than eight-in-10 American Muslims saw suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets as never justified (81 per cent) or rarely justified (5 per cent) to defend Islam from its enemies. That’s compared to a median of 72 per cent of Muslims worldwide saying such attacks are never justified and 10 per cent saying they are rarely justified.

Unlike their European counterparts, Muslim Americans come from more than 77 home countries, in contrast with Western European countries where Muslims are mainly from two or three countries.

Muslims in America—who make up a smaller percentage relative to the population than their counterparts in France and the U.K.— are also not dominated by a particular sect or ethnicity.

A 2007 Pew Survey also found that Muslim Americans were more assimilated into American culture than their Western European counterparts.

A majority of Muslim Americans expressed a generally positive view of the larger society and said their communities are excellent or good places to live. Seventy-two percent of them agreed with the widespread American opinion that hard work can help you succeed.

Western European Muslims are conversely generally less well off and frustrated with the lack of economic opportunities.

Ripe for recruitment

An estimated 1,200 fighters have left France to become jihadists in Syria and Iraq, according to the U.K.-based I.C.S.R., which has been tracking fighters in the Iraqi-Syrian conflicts since 2012. More British men have joined Islamic extremist groups abroad than have entered the British armed forces.

Ideologically centered recruitment—particularly online and through social media—and discontent with perceived domestic and foreign policies affecting Muslims, are the primary causes of Islamic radicalisation in Western countries, especially where Muslim communities are isolated from others.

The sense of alienation, especially among the youth of Muslim immigrants, mixed with antipathy toward their country’s foreign policy makes some Muslims prime targets for foreign recruiters.

“Algerian French-Muslim immigrants or South Asian Muslims in the U.K. feel excluded and constantly watched and tracked by the authorities,” said Nakhleh.

While surveillance programmes targeting Muslims are also in effect in the U.S.—more than half of the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 said government anti-terrorism policies singled them out for increased surveillance and monitoring—Muslim Americans have not expressed the same level of discontent with their lives as those in Western European countries such as France and the United Kingdom.

Indeed, the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 who reported discrimination still expressed a high level of satisfaction with their lives in the United States.

Conversely, French Muslims in particular complain of religious intolerance in the generally secular society.

The French law banning Islamic face coverings and burqas, which cover the entire body, resulted in a series of angry protests and clashes with police. Muslim groups have also complained of increasing rates of violent attacks since the ban became law in 2010.

A nine-month pregnant woman was beaten last month in southern France by two men who tore off her veil, saying “none of that here.” Another Islamophobic attack in 2013 resulted in a French Muslim woman in Paris suffering a miscarriage.

Obama embraces U.S. Muslims

But the U.S. government has been working to prevent its Muslim communities from feeling discriminated against and isolated.

Throughout his two terms in office, U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly distinguished between Islamic extremism and Islam as a religion.

“We are not at war with Islam, we are at war with those who have perverted Islam,” said Obama Feb. 18 at the White House-hosted Summit to Counter Violent Extremism.

He has also encouraged religious tolerance while calling for Muslim community leaders to work more closely with the government in rooting out homegrown extremism.

“Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding,” said Obama.

“If we’re going to solve these issues, then the people who are most targeted and potentially most affected — Muslim Americans — have to have a seat at the table where they can help shape and strengthen these partnerships so that we’re all working together to help communities stay safe and strong and resilient,” he said.

The Jan. 7 terrorist attack in Paris, where two gunmen executed 11 staffers at the Charlie Hebdo magazine for what they considered deeply offensive portrayals of Islam, have put Western countries on heightened alert for so-called “lone-wolf” attacks, where individuals perpetuate violence to prove a point or for a cause.

The U.S. has not seen a similar major terror attack since April 2013, when two Chechnyan-American brothers deployed pressure-cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others.

But with sophisticated foreign-terrorist recruitment efforts on the rise, Washington has increased its counter-terrorism measures at home and worldwide.

While the Islamic State and similar groups could plan attacks on U.S. soil if they see the U.S. as directly involved in their battles, according to Nakhleh, their primary goal at the moment is to recruit foreigners as combatants.

“The more Western Jihadists they can recruit, the more global they can present themselves as they seek allegiances in Asian countries, and in North Africa,” he said.

“This is how they present themselves as a Muslim global caliphate.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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