Inter Press Service » North America http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Wed, 30 Jul 2014 22:57:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Israel Lobby Galvanises Support for Gaza War http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israel-lobby-galvanises-support-for-gaza-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-lobby-galvanises-support-for-gaza-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israel-lobby-galvanises-support-for-gaza-war/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 18:06:52 +0000 Mitchell Plitnick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135825 National Security Adviser Susan Rice was interrupted by a protester who shouted “End the siege on Gaza." Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

National Security Adviser Susan Rice was interrupted by a protester who shouted “End the siege on Gaza." Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Mitchell Plitnick
WASHINGTON, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

Pro-Israel activists assembled a huge crowd and a long list of congressional leaders and diplomats to declare their unconditional support for Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip on Monday, largely downplaying  tensions between Jerusalem and Washington.

Key congressional figures from both the Republican and Democratic Parties echoed similar views: that Israel was exercising its inherent right of self-defence, that the entire blame for the hostilities lies with Hamas, and reminding the audience, in a thinly veiled message to U.S. President Barack Obama, that Hamas is backed by Iran.Many of the speakers brought up Iranian sponsorship of Hamas, despite the fact that the relationship between them splintered after Hamas declared its support for the rebels in Syria.

Obama was represented at the event here, dubbed the National Leadership Assembly for Israel, by his national security adviser, Susan Rice.

Her address was interrupted by a protester, Tighe Berry, who shouted “End the siege on Gaza,” and held up a sign with the same words. Berry was joined by a handful of protesters outside the building from the pro-peace activist group, Code Pink.

After the protester was removed by force, Rice delivered the White House view that a ceasefire was of the utmost urgency in Gaza and Israel.

“The United States supports an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire,” Rice said. “That humanitarian ceasefire should lead to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the agreement of November 2012.”

That statement was distinct from the Israeli stance and that of almost all of the speakers at this event. Although Israel accepted an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire several weeks ago along similar lines, it is now insisting on first eliminating any tunnels in Gaza which lead into Israel and taking steps to disarm Hamas before halting its operations.

Robert Sugarman, the chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which spearheaded this gathering, set the tone with his opening remarks to the overflow crowd.

“We must continue to support the decisions of the government [of Israel], whatever our personal views may be,” Sugarman said. “And we must continue to urge our government to support [the decisions of the Israeli government] as well.”

While most of the speakers did not state any direct opposition to the Obama administration’s policy, virtually all of them stressed the view that Hamas must be disarmed and that the Netanyahu government must have unqualified U.S. support.

John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and one of President Obama’s leading political opponents, came closest to squarely criticising the president, by tying the crisis in Gaza to Iran.

“We will continue to push this administration to address root cause of conflict in the Middle East,” Boehner said. “What we’re seeing in Gaza is a direct result of Iran sponsored terrorism in the region. This is part of Iran’s long history of providing weapons to Gaza-based terror organizations, which must come to an end. Israel’s enemies are our enemies. As long as I’m Speaker, this will be our cause.”

Many of the speakers brought up Iranian sponsorship of Hamas, despite the fact that the relationship between them splintered after Hamas declared its support for the rebels in Syria, fighting against Iran’s key ally in the region, Bashar al-Assad.

Nonetheless, for many of the speakers, the connection provided a bridge to connect the fighting in Gaza to Congress’ scepticism about diplomacy with Iran over the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme.

But ongoing tensions between the Obama administration and the government of Israel inevitably made their way into the room.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Dermer tried to balance a conciliatory tone with Israel’s determination to continue its operations in Gaza despite calls from the United States and most of the international community for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

“Israel has uncovered dozens of tunnels whose sole purpose is to facilitate attacks on Israeli civilians. Israel will continue to destroy these tunnels and I’m sure the Obama administration understands this,” Dermer said.

“Everyone understands that leaving these tunnels is like seizing 10,000 missiles and handing them back to Hamas. That is not going to happen. We will not stop until that job is done. Israel believes that a sustainable solution is one where Gaza is demilitarized, rockets are removed, and the tunnels destroyed so Hamas cannot rearm in another year or two. We appreciate that all U.S. leaders have supported us.”

But Dermer also delivered a message of moderate conciliation in the wake of very harsh criticism in Israel of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after the alleged text of a ceasefire proposal from Kerry was leaked to the Israeli media.

“I am speaking now for my prime minister,” Dermer said. “The criticism of Secretary Kerry for his good faith efforts to advance a ceasefire is unwarranted. We look forward to working with the United States to advance goal of a ceasefire that is durable.”

Rice also addressed the criticism of Kerry. “We’ve been dismayed by some press reports in Israel mischaracterising [Secretary Kerry’s] efforts. We know these misleading reports have raised concerns here at home as well.

“The reality is that John Kerry, on behalf of the United States, has been working with Israel every step of the way to support our shared interests. Both in public and private, we have strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself. We will continue to do so and continue to set the record straight when anyone distorts facts.”

Rice’s defence of Kerry did not seem to ruffle many feathers in the audience. But the next day, a new controversy arose in Israel when several Israeli radio stations reported on a leaked transcript of a phone call between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama. Israel’s Channel 1 reported that Obama “behaved in a rude, condescending and hostile manner” toward Netanyahu in the call.

Both the White House and the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office flatly denied the reports.

“[It is] shocking and disappointing [that] someone would sink to misrepresenting a private conversation between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister in fabrications to the Israeli press,” said an official statement from the Prime Minister’s Twitter account.

Identical language was employed by the United States National Security Council over their own Twitter account. “The…report is totally false,” added White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at plitnickm@gmail.com

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Under Water: The EPA’s Struggle to Combat Pollution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/under-water-the-epas-struggle-to-combat-pollution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=under-water-the-epas-struggle-to-combat-pollution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/under-water-the-epas-struggle-to-combat-pollution/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 20:36:11 +0000 Naveena Sadasivam ProPublica http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135816 Water and sediment sampling operations during Enbridge Spill Response on Morrow Lake near Battle Creek, Michigan from Mudpuppy II, EPA's news research vessel. Credit: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Lauren Jorgensen

Water and sediment sampling operations during Enbridge Spill Response on Morrow Lake near Battle Creek, Michigan from Mudpuppy II, EPA's news research vessel. Credit: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Lauren Jorgensen

By Naveena Sadasivam, ProPublica
NEW YORK, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

For years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been frustrated in its efforts to pursue hundreds of cases of water pollution — repeatedly tied up in legal fights about exactly what bodies of water it has the authority to monitor and protect.

Efforts in Congress to clarify the EPA’s powers have been defeated. And two Supreme Court decisions have done little to decide the question.In recent years the EPA has allowed hundreds of cases of water pollution to go unpunished because it currently lacks the confidence that it can prevail in court.

Most recently, in April, the EPA itself declared what waters were subject to its oversight — developing a joint rule with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that sought to end the debate and empower the EPA to press hundreds of enforcements actions against alleged polluters across the country.

The new rule, for instance, explicitly defines several terms — tributary, floodplain and wetland — and makes clear that those waters are subject to its authority.

But the EPA’s effort has been met with immense opposition from farmers who say the agency is overreaching. An expansive online campaign organised and financed by the American Farm Bureau Federation has asserted that the new rule will give the EPA jurisdiction over farmers’ irrigation ditches, watering ponds and even puddles of rain.

The American Farm Bureau Federation’s president, Bob Stallman, said the proposed rule was the “the biggest federal land grab — in terms of power over land use — that we’ve seen to date.”

In an effort to address the concerns of farmers, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in recent weeks has been touring states in the Midwest.

“There are issues we need to discuss and clarify to get this rule right,” she said. “We have important work to do. All the silly contentions being brought up — that we intend to regulate dry ground or stock ponds or mud puddles after a rain — all that does is get in the way of our being able to have those serious discussions.”

The Clean Water Act of 1972 authorised the EPA to protect the “waters of the United States” from dangerous and or illegal pollution. But that term has been the subject of controversy and dispute virtually from the time the act was signed into law.

Regulators and industry representatives are generally in agreement that the law applies to some of the nation’s larger rivers. At issue, however, are the streams that flow intermittently and the wetlands adjacent to these streams that dry up during the summer.

Legal fights over those streams and wetlands, current and former EPA officials say, have cost the agency time, money and effectiveness in the face of real environmental threats. Indeed, in recent years the EPA has allowed hundreds of cases of water pollution to go unpunished because it currently lacks the confidence that it can prevail in court.

Granta Nakayama, who served as the assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at the EPA until 2009, found that between July 2006 and March 2008 the agency had decided not to pursue formal enforcement in 304 cases because of jurisdictional uncertainty.

In 2008, in an internal memo, Nakayama wrote that the uncertainty “results in delays in enforcement and increases the resources needed to bring enforcement cases.”

And so in 2007, when an oil company discharged thousands of gallons of crude oil into Edwards Creek in Titus County, Texas, the EPA did not issue a fine, pursue legal action or even require clean up.

Similarly, after a farming operation dumped manure into tributaries that fed Lake Blackshear in Georgia, the EPA did not seek to hold the polluting company responsible — despite the fact that tests showed unsafe levels of bacteria and viruses in the lake, which was regularly used for waterskiing and other recreation.

“The proposed rule will improve the process for making jurisdictional determinations for the Clean Water Act by minimizing delays and costs, and will improve the predictability and consistency of the permit and enforcement process for landowners,” an EPA spokesperson said.

The EPA expects that improving efficiency in jurisdictional determinations will also save the businesses that they regulate time and money.

“Protecting water is important to the long-term health of the economy,” the EPA spokesperson said. “Streams and wetlands are economic drivers because of their role in fishing, hunting, agriculture, recreation, energy, and manufacturing.”

Two Supreme Court decisions in the last 15 years have been the cause of much of the uncertainty.

In a 5-4 ruling in 2001, the Court held that the Army Corps of Engineers could not require permits for waters based on their use as a habitat by migratory birds. The Court ruling also included language that seemed to assert that only wetlands with a “significant nexus” to traditional navigable waterways would be protected under the Clean Water Act.

The Court did not make clear the meaning of the term “significant nexus.”

And in 2006, the Court, asked to determine whether a wetland needed to be adjacent to a traditional navigable waterway in order to be protected, wound up split, and reached no majority decision.

By the EPA’s own estimates, two million stream miles outside of Alaska are regarded as “intermittent,” and 20 percent of roughly 110 million acres of wetlands are considered “isolated.” As a result of the inability of the government to clarify the EPA’s jurisdiction over the last 15 years, these water bodies are currently unprotected.

“At some level this is a very frustrating debate to be having because water is all connected at some level,” said Jon Devine, a senior attorney in the water program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “What the Supreme Court’s decisions do is throw into significant doubt what is protected.”

As a result, in cases where a polluted waterway isn’t clearly under the EPA’s jurisdiction, the agency has sometimes spent thousands of dollars to model water flow and conduct studies to show that it is hydrologically connected to larger water bodies that are protected.

“It just causes an incredible waste of resources and rewards those who don’t really worry about compliance and punishes those who do,” said Nakayama, now an environmental lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington.

In past years, federal legislators have tried to introduce bills that address the ambiguity in the Clean Water Act’s language, but none have passed both the House and Senate.

In 2011, when Congress was considering a bill that made many of the changes that EPA’s current rule would, the American Farm Bureau Federation, as part of the Waters Advocacy Coalition, used a similar media strategy to kill the bill. The Coalition was made up of different industry groups that would be affected by the bill including mining associations and homebuilders.

The New York Times reported than an unnamed member of the Coalition said, “The game plan is to emphasise the scary possibilities. If you can get Glenn Beck to say that government storm troopers are going to invade your property, farmers in the Midwest will light up their congressmen’s switchboards.”

This time around, the pushback by farmers and others — called the “Ditch the Rule” campaign — has mainly taken place online. The Farm Bureau organisation has created a separate website for the campaign and created shareable videos and infographics.

The organisation has also been effective in recruiting state farming associations to join the campaign. It has resulted in a blitz of social media posts and a steady stream of local coverage often favouring the farmers’ point of view.

“The campaign has energised our grassroots to participate,” said Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation. Although the campaign does not have a large amount of money flowing into it, Parrish said it has really “struck a chord.”

Lisa Garcia, a former administrator of environmental justice at the EPA, said the effort by the federation is chiefly one of misinformation.

“The rule is not adding or expanding the scope of waters historically protected,” said Garcia, who is currently at Earthjustice, an environmental non-profit organization. She said the opposition she has seen fits “this pattern of just completely fighting against any new regulation.”

Parrish disagrees. He said that the tensions that are playing out are because “the EPA is trying to create regulations that do an end run around the Supreme Court and Congress.”

“[The EPA is] really reaching into areas that Congress clearly didn’t want the EPA to regulate. They did not intend to put EPA in the land use business,” he said.

This story originally appeared on ProPublica.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

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Thousands of New Yorkers Protest Gaza Killings http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings/#comments Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:41:54 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135759 The Israeli offensive in Gaza has killed 1,050 people, mostly civilians, as of Jul. 26, 2014. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

The Israeli offensive in Gaza has killed 1,050 people, mostly civilians, as of Jul. 26, 2014. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Jul 27 2014 (IPS)

Thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets in multiple protests this past week against the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which has left at least 1,049 Palestinians dead and over 6,000 injured since Jul. 8.

Among demonstrators’ many demands was that the U.S. government end its massive flow of aid and arms to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), one of the world’s most powerful militaries.

The Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation estimates that the United States has shelled out over 100 billion dollars’ worth of military and economic aid since 1949.

Protests on Thursday, Jul. 24 drew over a thousand people, holding signs proclaiming U.S. complicity in the war on Gaza. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Protests on Thursday, Jul. 24 drew over a thousand people, holding signs proclaiming U.S. complicity in the war on Gaza. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

In 2007, the U.S. government pledged to provide 30 billion dollars worth of weapons to Israel in the decade 2009-2018. This year, according to the FY2015 budget submitted to Congress, the Barack Obama administration set aside three billion dollars for military aid.

The protests also had particular significance for New York City, whose former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, announced in 2011 his support for a 100-million-dollar partnership between Cornell University and Israel’s Institute of Technology (the Technion) that would allow the construction of a state-of-the-art new complex on Roosevelt Island.

 

Thousands of U.S. citizens have called on the government to end military aid to Israel. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Thousands of U.S. citizens have called on the government to end military aid to Israel. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

An alliance known as New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT) says the Technion is “complicit in Israeli’s violation of international law and the rights of Palestinians”, namely its mandate to develop and design weapons and technologies that are used to enforce the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza.

Among other ‘achievements’, students at Technion were instrumental in creating the remote-controlled Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer, the IDF’s weapon of choice in demolishing Palestinian homes; and its Autonomous Systems Program (TASP) was responsible for developing the so-called ‘stealth drone’, capable of carrying two 1,100-pound ‘smart bombs’ for a distance of up to 2,000 miles.

Highly visible at both protests were members of the organisation known as ‘Neturei Karat International: Jews Against Zionism’, who carried signs proclaiming, “Jews reject the Zionist state of Israel and its atrocities”.

A statement prepared by the organisation 'Jews Against Zionism' appeals to world leaders to "stop the latest ongoing cruelty and the attack on the people of Gaza." Credit: Kanya DAlmeida/IPS

A statement prepared by the organisation ‘Jews Against Zionism’ appeals to world leaders to “stop the latest ongoing cruelty and the attack on the people of Gaza.” Credit: Kanya DAlmeida/IPS

Others waved placards claiming “New York Jews Say ‘Not in Our Name’.”

Thursday’s action, which brought out over 2,000 people, was part of the National Day of Action for Gaza, endorsed by over 55 U.S.-based human rights groups. The protest followed on the heels of a demonstration by Jewish Voice for Peace on Jul. 22, which saw the arrest of nine Jewish activists for occupying the office of The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in Manhattan.

The Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has cost Israel billions of dollars in investments. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

The Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has cost Israel billions of dollars in investments. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

One of the co-organisers of the march, Adalah-NY, handed out leaflets urging demonstrators to support the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel, a non-violent civil society-based campaign modeled on the international boycott movement that was instrumental in dismantling apartheid in South Africa.

Roadside vendors joined a massive protest on Friday, Jul. 25, that snaked through lower Manhattan. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Roadside vendors joined a massive protest on Friday, Jul. 25, that snaked through lower Manhattan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

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U.S., Regional Leaders Convene over Migration Crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-regional-leaders-convene-over-migration-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-regional-leaders-convene-over-migration-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-regional-leaders-convene-over-migration-crisis/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 11:53:34 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135744 The presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador speak at the Organisation of American States on Jul. 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

The presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador speak at the Organisation of American States on Jul. 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

As the presidents of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala prepare to meet with President Barack Obama Friday, more than 40 organisations issued a petition urging U.S. lawmakers to meet their “moral and legal obligations” by providing emergency aid to Central American children and families.

The petition, spearheaded by the Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA), an advocacy group here, insists that “more border security will not help,” and is instead calling for the U.S. to provide children and families with “all due [legal] protections” and “face the root causes of violence at the community level.”“What we’d like to see [from Friday’s meeting] is a package of assistance to Central America that is focused entirely on the civilian side of what it takes to protect.” -- Adam Isacson

In the last nine months, more than 50,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the U.S. southern border, and the wave shows no signs of abating. Many are now facing deportation.

Less than 24 hours after WOLA released their petition, a separate batch of legal groups accused the U.S. government of violating both international and domestic law, based on its inspection of the New Mexico-based Artesia Family Detention Facility.

After representatives from 22 organisations interviewed families detained at Artesia, the groups concluded that the U.S. government is violating both their moral responsibility to provide the refugees with physical and mental health support, as well as their legal obligation to guarantee them due process.

“Family detention is always an awful and damaging process, but the conditions at the Artesia Family Detention facility in New Mexico should make every American hang their head in shame,” the groups said in a statement.

“The Administration’s intent to deport everyone as quickly as possible for optics is sacrificing critical due process procedures and sending families – mothers, babies, and children – back despite clear concerns for their safety in violation of US and international law.”

Fixing the roots

While such humanitarian concerns surrounding the Central American migration crisis persist from a variety of sources, top officials from both the U.S. and Central America are considering both long-term and short-term intervention from the top-down.

As a pre-cursor for Friday’s meeting between U.S. President Obama and the Central American presidents, foreign ministers from the three respective nations – collectively known as the “Northern Triangle” – convened on Thursday at the Wilson Center, a think tank here, to discuss the crisis’ roots and debate its solutions.

While all three of the Northern Triangle’s representatives agreed that there was not one cause behind the current crisis, they collectively cited the drug smuggling network, the prevalence of organised crime, and lack of taxpayer dollars as their biggest problems.

As such, the three ministers advocated for “all-encompassing” reform, both to stop the short-term crisis at the border, and to provide economic and educational opportunities- such as universal secondary school coverage- for children and adults alike.

Call for legal protections

While Michelle Brané , director of migrant rights & justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), a New York-based advocacy group that participated in Artesia’s inspection, agrees with the Northern Triangle’s conclusion that such a “holistic response…addressing root causes” is necessary, her central issue is with U.S. justice system.

“The problem is that our court system is woefully under-funded,”Brané told IPS, hopefully adding that “we can create a due process system that works,” even if it takes years.

Clarifying that she is “not saying everyone should stay, [but rather] that everyone should have a fair shot at presenting their case,” Brané believes that providing attorneys to represent these migrants and using alternative detention centres, such as shelters and community support programs,  are both more humane and “cost-effective” solutions than the status quo.

Asked about the desired outcome of Friday’s presidential meeting, Brané informed IPS that she would like to see “[the U.S.] take a leadership role in protection, as opposed to a ‘close the borders’ stance and lack of respect for human rights law.”

“This is more than just something that requires them to stem the flow to stop up the borders,” Brané told IPS. ‘It really requires…strengthening protections systems, as opposed to interception.”

Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security policy at WOLA, echoed Brané’s call for more protections.

“What we’d like to see [from Friday’s meeting] is a package of assistance to Central America that is focused entirely on the civilian side of what it takes to protect,” Isacson told IPS.

While his list of desired protections included “getting police to respect people”, “a much stronger justice system,” and “more emphasis on creating opportunities,” Isacson added that such requests be “combined with Central American presidents’ commitment to raise more taxes from their wealthiest.”

Isacson further agrees with WRC’s Brané in that there is a need for systematic reform of the U.S legal system, calling for “more capacity” and a reduction in the average trial’s wait time, which he believes can be up to two or three years.

Yet others, including the Virginia-based Negative Population Growth (NPG) nonprofits, have expressed different legal concerns.

“Asylum and refugee status is something for specific persecution, and it’s not intended to be a relief measure for general societal strife,” Dave Simcox, senior adviser of NPG, told IPS.

Simcox also told IPS that there is a distinction between being trafficked and being smuggled, and while “a few [migrants] will be able to make the case that they were taken against their will for exploitation,” he ultimately agrees with NPG President Don McCann, who argued in a statement that “granting refugee or temporary protected status on the current wave from Central America would be a disastrous precedent,” and that U.S leaders should instead apply “strong deterrent measures” by “supplementing border forces” with additional personnel and fencing.

But Isacson thinks “judges will get it right much more than border patrol agents on the spot will get it right,” and believes that that providing due process to such migrants is the best way for the U.S. to “enforce its own laws.”

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Israel’s U.S.-Made Military Might Overwhelms Palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israels-u-s-made-military-might-overwhelms-palestinians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israels-u-s-made-military-might-overwhelms-palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israels-u-s-made-military-might-overwhelms-palestinians/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 20:44:09 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135707 The two-week long conflict has claimed the lives of more than 620 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including over 230 women and children, and over 3,700 wounded, while the Israeli death toll is 27 soldiers and two civilians. Credit: Syeda Amina Trust Charity/cc by 2.0

The two-week long conflict has claimed the lives of more than 620 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including over 230 women and children, and over 3,700 wounded, while the Israeli death toll is 27 soldiers and two civilians. Credit: Syeda Amina Trust Charity/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

The overwhelming Israeli firepower unleashed on the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the ongoing battle in Gaza is perhaps reminiscent of the Algerian war of independence (1954-1962) when France, the colonial power, used its vastly superior military strength to strike back at the insurgents with brutal ferocity.

While France was accused of using its air force to napalm civilians in the countryside, the Algerians were accused of using handmade bombs hidden in women’s handbags and left surreptitiously in cafes, restaurants and public places frequented by the French."Unless you have been on the street facing Israeli troops in Gaza, or sleeping on the floor under an Israeli aerial assault, as I have several times while delivering aid in 1989, 2000, and 2009, it's impossible to imagine the total disproportion of power in this conflict." -- Dr. James E. Jennings

In one of the memorable scenes in the 1967 cinematic classic “The Battle of Algiers,” a handcuffed leader of the National Liberation Front (NLF), Ben M’Hidi, is brought before a group of highly-partisan French journalists for interrogation.

One of the journalists asks M’Hidi: “Don’t you think it is a bit cowardly to use women’s handbags and baskets to carry explosive devices that kill so many innocent people?”

The Algerian insurgent shoots back with equal bluntness: “And doesn’t it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on unarmed villages, so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims?”

Then he delivers the devastating punchline: “Of course, if we had your fighter planes, it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our handbags and baskets.”

In the current conflict in Gaza, a role reversal would see Hamas armed with fighter planes, air-to-surface missiles and battle tanks, while the Israelis would be hitting back only with homemade rockets.

But in reality what is taking place in Gaza is a totally outmatched and outranked Hamas fighting a country with one of the world’s most formidable and sophisticated military machines, whose state-of-the-art equipment is provided gratis – under so-called “Foreign Military Financing (FMF)” – by the United States.

According to the latest figures, the two-week long conflict has claimed the lives of more than 620 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including over 230 women and children, and over 3,700 wounded, while the Israeli death toll is 27 soldiers and two civilians.

Speaking of the military imbalance, Dr. James E. Jennings, president of Conscience International and executive director of U.S. Academics for Peace, told IPS, “Unless you have been on the street facing Israeli troops in Gaza, or sleeping on the floor under an Israeli aerial assault, as I have several times while delivering aid in 1989, 2000, and 2009, it’s impossible to imagine the total disproportion of power in this conflict.

“I saw boys who were merely running away shot in the back by Israeli soldiers with Uzi [submachine guns] and arrayed in body armour, and in 2009 and 2012 at Rafah witnessed Israel’s technological superiority in coordinating sophisticated computers, drones, and F-15s with devastating effect,” he said.

The repeated missile strikes ostensibly targeted youths scrambling through tunnels like rats to bring food and medicine to the trapped population, but often hit helpless civilians fleeing the bombing as well, said Jennings.

He also pointed out that in terms of the imbalance in the number of casualties in this so-called “war”, statistics speak for themselves. However, numbers on a page do not do justice to the up-close reality.

“In my work I have visited wounded women and children in hospitals in Rafah and Gaza City and helped carry out the bodies of the dead for burial,” Jennings said.

When military capabilities are that asymmetrical, he said, shooting fish in a barrel is the best analogy.

As for the largely homemade Qassam rockets launched by Hamas, their ineffectiveness is apparent in the statistical results: over 2,000 launched, with only two unlucky civilians killed on the Israeli side.

“That is far less than the eight Americans killed accidentally last year by celebratory rockets on the 4th of July,” Jennings noted.

The billions of dollars in sophisticated U.S. weapons purchased by Israel are under non-repayable FMF grants, according to defence analysts.

Israel is currently the recipient of a 10-year, 30-billion-dollar U.S. military aid package, 2009 through 2018.

And according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Israel is also the largest single recipient of FMF, and by 2015, these grants will account for about 55 percent of all U.S. disbursements worldwide, and represent about 23-25 percent of the annual Israeli military budget.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst who covers the Middle East and Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS Israel imports practically all its weapons from the U.S. – and this largely consists of sophisticated equipment it does not produce domestically, or equipment it finds more expedient to buy with U.S. assistance funding.

She said despite a proposed shift in emphasis from air and naval power to ground strength, Israel continues to place priority on maintaining air superiority over all its regional neighbours.

The emphasis on air supremacy and strike capability has resulted in an additional order for F-15I fighters to serve as the lead fighter until the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is brought into service with the Israeli Air Force (IAF), she said.

Along with its 25 long-range strike F-15Is (Ra’ams), the IAF also has 102 multirole combat F-16Is (Soufas) purchased under the Peace Marble V programme in 1999 (50 platforms) and 2001 (option for a further 52 planes), Auger said.

The F-15I and F-16I jets, some of which are being used for aerial bombings of Gaza, are customised versions of the American fighters tailored to specific Israeli needs.

Israel’s military arsenal also includes scores of attack helicopters.

Auger said the Sikorsky CH-53 heavy-lift helicopter fleet was just upgraded with the IAI Elta Systems EL/M-2160 flight guard protection system, which detects incoming missiles with radar and then activates diversionary countermeasures.

Israel has also completed a major upgrade to its fleet of Bell AH-1E/F/G/S Cobra attack helicopters and its Boeing AH-64A Apache helicopters has been converted to AH-64D Longbow standards.

The middle layer of defence is provided by the upgraded Patriot PAC 2 anti-missile system (PAC 3) and the air force is also armed with Paveway laser-guided bombs, BLU-109 penetration bombs, Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) kits, and GBU-28 bunker busters.

In terms of vehicles, she said, Israel manufactures the majority of its own.

Jennings told IPS two facts are largely missing in the standard media portrayal of the Israel-Gaza “war:” the right of self-defence, so stoutly defended by Israelis and their allies in Washington, is never mentioned about the period in 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes and pushed off their land to be enclosed in the world’s largest prison camp that is Gaza.

Secondly, the world has stood by silently while Israel, with complicity by the U.S. and Egypt, has literally choked the life out of the 1.7 million people in Gaza by a viciously effective cordon sanitaire, an almost total embargo on goods and services, greatly impacting the availability of food and medicine.

“These are war crimes, stark and ongoing violations of international humanitarian law perpetuated over the last seven years while the world has continued to turn away,” Jennings said.

“The indelible stain of that shameful neglect will not be erased for centuries, yet many people in the West continue to wonder at all the outrage in the Middle East,” he added.

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U.S. Debating “Historic” Support for Off-Grid Electricity in Africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 23:02:57 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135654 Sub-Saharan Africa has large potential for hydropower generation, but is yet to exploit it. Pictured here is the Kariba Dam. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

Sub-Saharan Africa has large potential for hydropower generation, but is yet to exploit it. Pictured here is the Kariba Dam. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

Pressure is building here for lawmakers to pass a bill that would funnel billions of dollars of U.S. investment into strengthening Africa’s electricity production and distribution capabilities, and could offer broad new support for off-grid opportunities.

With half of the U.S. Congress having already acted on the issue, supporters are now hoping that the Senate will follow suit before a major summit takes place here during the first week of August. That event is expected to include heads of state or representatives from as many as 50 African countries."We could see an energy revolution that looks similar to what happened with mobile phones – leapfrogging centralised systems altogether and moving towards transformative solutions.” -- Justin Guay

The summit, the first time that such an event has been organised in Washington, will focus in particular on investment opportunities. As such, many are hoping that the three-day event’s centrepiece will be President Barack Obama’s signing of a broad investment deal aimed at Africa’s power sector.

“The overwhelming majority of the African leaders are going to be coming to Washington emphasising trade and investment, and in that context this issue is very central to their many constituencies – touching on economic, political and social issues,” Ben Leo, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS.

“Coming forward with something concrete that will lead to additional capital, tools or engagement will be noticed and welcomed. But lack thereof would also have a message for African leaders and others travelling to Washington.”

A U.S. Senate subcommittee did pass a bill, called the Energize Africa Act, late last month, but much remains to be done. The legislation now needs to be voted on by the full Senate, after which the final proposal would have to be brought into alignment with a similar bill voted through by the House of Representatives in May.

Meanwhile, the entire Congress is scheduled to go into recess for a month at the end of July. Still, backroom talks are reportedly well underway.

“There’s growing pressure and momentum in the Senate, as well as a growing appreciation of how doing this is both strategic and important,” Leo says. “Not having a bill to sign would certainly be a missed opportunity in terms of the optics and concreteness of action, either before or when everyone’s in Washington.”

Some 68 percent of the sub-Saharan population lacks access to electricity. Both the House and Senate bills would seek to assist African countries in expanding basic electricity access to some 50 million people.

“Our support for this bill is a direct response to what we hear from African leaders, citizens and global development experts,” Tom Hart, U.S. executive director of ONE, an advocacy group that focuses on eliminating poverty in Africa and has mounted a major campaign in favour of the Senate bill, said in a statement.

“[O]ne of the biggest challenges for overcoming extreme poverty is the inability for millions of people to access the basic electricity necessary to power health clinics, farms, schools, factories and businesses.”

Beyond the grid

The current legislative push comes a year after President Obama unveiled a new initiative called Power Africa, proposed during his June 2013 trip to the continent. Seen as the president’s signature development plan for the region, Power Africa aims to double energy access in sub-Saharan countries through a mix of public and private investment.

While Power Africa is ambitious, its long-term impact greatly depends on the legislation currently under debate.

For instance, while Power Africa directly affects just six countries, the bills before Congress take a continental approach. Likewise, as an executive-level project, the initiative’s policy priorities can only be cemented through full legislation.

Power Africa initially came under significant fire from environmental and some development groups for its reliance on fossil fuel (particularly natural gas) and centralised power projects. Many groups say that such a focus is ultimately counterproductive for poor and marginalised communities.

Yet last month, the United States announced a billion-dollar initiative to focus on off-grid energy projects across the continent. This approach could now be codified through the legislative discussions currently taking place in Congress.

“Congress is now looking to pass a bill that would be relatively historic in terms of its support for beyond-the-grid markets,” Justin Guay, Washington representative for the Sierra Club, a conservation and advocacy group, told IPS. “The [Senate] bill is the first legislation we’ve seen starting to drive investment to unlock that potential.”

To date, Guay says, most investment from the U.S. government and multilateral agencies has skewed in favour of fossil fuels and centralised power generation. For the first time, the new legislation could start to balance out this mix – a potential boon for the environment and local communities alike.

“If you look at the energy access problem in sub-Saharan Africa, it’s largely a rural issue. So this bill could stimulate distributed, clean-energy solutions that can get into the hands of poor populations today, rather than forcing them to wait decades in the dark for power,” Guay says.

“In this way, we could see an energy revolution that looks similar to what happened with mobile phones – leapfrogging centralised systems altogether and moving towards transformative solutions.”

The House’s companion bill includes fewer progressive provisions than the Senate version, but it also doesn’t include amendments that could deliberately doom the legislation. Still, it remains to be seen how conservatives in the House react to the Senate’s proposals.

Strengthened support

These new opportunities have broadened support for the Senate’s legislation. On Friday, for instance, the Global Off Grid Lighting Association, a Germany-based trade group, expressed its “strong support” for the Energize Africa Act.

The legislation is also being welcomed by African environmentalists.

“We believe this bill has emerged as a strong source of support for our efforts to address energy poverty,” Mithika Mwenda, secretary general of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said in a letter to U.S. lawmakers from earlier this month.

“We are particularly supportive of new efforts to expand loan guarantee authority at USAID” – the main U.S. foreign aid agency – “as well as the goal of ending kerosene based lighting. Both of these aspects are critical to ending energy poverty in poor rural areas.”

Meanwhile, both the House and Senate bills have enjoyed an unusual level of bipartisan support. Still, it’s not clear whether that will translate into the passage of a new law – particularly by the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, slated for Aug. 4-6.

“There’s not a lot of time left, so it’s is very difficult,” the Center for Global Development’s Leo says. “However, if it doesn’t pass by the summit, the summit will invariably create a lot of action shortly thereafter.”

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U.S. Ranks Near Bottom Globally in Energy Efficiency http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-ranks-near-bottom-globally-in-energy-efficiency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ranks-near-bottom-globally-in-energy-efficiency http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-ranks-near-bottom-globally-in-energy-efficiency/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 23:26:46 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135640 Energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). Credit: Anton Fomkin/cc by 2.0

Energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). Credit: Anton Fomkin/cc by 2.0

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

A new ranking has lauded Germany for its energy efficiency, while condemning the United States for lagging near the bottom.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a non-profit here, called the U.S. economy’s inefficiency “a tremendous waste” of both resources and money, in a scorecard released Thursday. Looking at 16 of the world’s largest economies, the rankings use 31 metrics to measure efficiency-related measures within each nation’s legislative efforts as well as the industrial, transportation and building sectors.“The most important kilowatt hour is the one you don’t have to produce.” -- Mark Konold

“A country that uses less energy to achieve the same or better results reduces its costs and pollution, creating a stronger, more competitive economy,” the ACEEE’s report begins. “While energy efficiency has played a role in the economies of developed nations for decades, cost-effective energy efficiency remains a massively underutilized energy resource.”

Though Germany produced the highest overall score- with 65 out of 100 possible points- and came in first in the “industry” sector, China had the top-scoring assessment in the “buildings” category, Italy had the most efficient “transportation” sector, and France, Italy and the European Union tied three-ways in the “national efforts” division.

Rachel Young, an ACEEE research analyst, told IPS that the U.S government has taken important recent steps to limit carbon emissions, particularly from existing power plants. But she recommends much broader actions.

The U.S. needs to “implement a national ‘energy savings’ target, strengthen national model building codes, support education and training in the industrial sector, and prioritise energy efficiency in transportation,” she says. Doing so, Young suggests, would not only reduce emissions but also save money and create jobs.

ACEEE’s focus has traditionally been on improving energy efficiency in the United States. But the new scorecard’s broad emphasis – on how energy efficiency makes for both an environmentally and financially wide investment – can be applied to international economies as well.

The Worldwatch Institute, a think tank here, is one of the many international development-focused organisations that have adopted this approach.

“We think that energy efficiency is one of the fastest ways that countries can get more mileage out of their energy usage,” Mark Konold, the Caribbean project manager at the Worldwatch Institute, told IPS. “The most important kilowatt hour is the one you don’t have to produce.”

Citing the Caribbean, West Africa, Central America and South America as prime examples, Konold says energy efficiency can be a wise economic investment for governments and individuals alike.

“Especially in island countries, which face disproportionately large energy bills, energy efficiency can go a long way in terms of reducing [an individual’s] financial burden,” he says. “Something as simple as window installations can make buildings in these island countries more efficient.”

Paradigm shift?

Worldwatch and others increasingly consider energy efficiency a key element in the sustainability agenda.

Konold, who recently co-authored a study on sustainable energy in Jamaica, believes it is critical to examine the return on investment of energy-efficient practices. Doing so, he says, can help determine which cost-effective energy models should be implemented in developing nations.

Such recommendations are particularly relevant given the international community’s growing focus on efficiency issues.

The United Nations and the World Bank, for instance, recently established the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative to help “promote [a] paradigm shift” towards sustainability in developing countries. As one its three objectives, SE4ALL mandates “doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency”.

“There is a growing realisation that energy efficiency is the lowest-cost energy and greenhouse gas emission option,” Nate Aden, a research fellow the climate and energy programme at the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, told IPS. “This is especially important for developing countries that are trying to address energy access while also addressing climate change.”

Part of this new focus is specifically due to the SE4ALL initiative, Aden says. Further,  he believes that the programme’s other two goals – doubling the share of renewable energy and providing universal energy access – are “consistent and complimentary” with energy efficiency.

“For example, in India, there’s a lot of discussion about the appropriate choices going forward, given that you have hundreds of millions who still lack access to energy,” Aden says. “You have to ask what the right choice is in terms of not only producing low-carbon emissions, but also in bringing energy to people.”

Aden also spoke enthusiastically about the “unique perspective” that private companies may take on energy efficiency, pointing to the efficiency efforts of Phillips, a U.S.-based lighting company. Aden believes that the ACEEE’s call for more energy-efficient practices will help make companies “able to plan effectively and be well-positioned from the supplier side” of energy.

Cultural change

While actions by the international community will clearly be important in implementing energy-efficient strategies from the top down, some are also emphasising the need for cultural change at the individual level.

“A huge chunk of this issue is education and awareness-building,” Worldwatch’s Konold says. “And once we start to spread the message that individuals can better their own situation, that’s when we start seeing a change,”

He says there is a profound lack of awareness around energy in many countries, pointing to a phenomenon he refers to as “leaving the air-conditioning on with the windows open”. But Konold emphasises that individuals can indeed make broad, substantive impact if they adopt more energy-saving behaviours in their homes.

This sentiment was echoed by the ACEEE’s Young, whose report pointed out that Americans are particularly guilty of energy-wasting behaviours, consuming roughly 6.8 tonnes of oil equivalent per person. This put the U.S. in second to last place in terms of individual energy consumption, only beating out Canada, where estimated oil consumption was 7.2 tonnes.

Based on this phenomenon, Young believes that individuals should “take advantage of incentives offered by their local utilities and governments to learn more about what they can do to reduce energy waste”, and to check out the ACEEE website, which “has dozens of consumer tips on improving energy efficiency.”

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Child Migrants – A “Torn Artery” in Central America http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/child-migrants-a-torn-artery-in-central-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-migrants-a-torn-artery-in-central-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/child-migrants-a-torn-artery-in-central-america/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 22:39:35 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135637 At the conclusion of the International Conference on Migration, Childhood and Family, civil society organisations called for migrants to be seen as human beings rather than just statistics in official files. Credit: Casa Presidencial de Honduras

At the conclusion of the International Conference on Migration, Childhood and Family, civil society organisations called for migrants to be seen as human beings rather than just statistics in official files. Credit: Casa Presidencial de Honduras

By Thelma Mejía
TEGUCIGALPA, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

The migration crisis involving thousands of Central American children detained in the United States represents the loss of a generation of young people fleeing poverty, violence and insecurity in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, the countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America where violence is rife.

Some 200 experts and officials from several countries and bodies met in Tegucigalpa to promote solutions to the humanitarian emergency July 16-17 at an International Conference on Migration, Childhood and Family, convened by the Honduran government and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The conference ended with a call to establish ways and means for the countries involved to implement a plan of action with sufficient resources for effective border control and the elimination of “blind spots” used as migrant routes.

They also called for the rapid establishment of a regional initiative to address this humanitarian crisis jointly and definitively, in recognition of the shared responsibility to bring peace, security, welfare and justice to the peoples of Central America.“It is like someone has torn open an artery in Honduras and other Central American countries. Fear, grinding poverty and no future mean we are losing our lifeblood – our young people. If this continues to happen, the hearts of our nations will stop beating” – Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras

But the declaration “Hoja de Ruta: Una Invitación a la Acción” (Roadmap: An Invitation to Action) does not go beyond generalisations and lacks specific commitments to address a crisis of unprecedented dimensions.

The U.S. government says that border patrols have caught 47,000 unaccompanied minors crossing into the United States this year. They are confined in overcrowded shelters awaiting deportation.

José Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS), told the conference that in 2011 there were 4,059 unaccompanied minors who attempted to enter the United States. But this figure rose to 21,537 in 2013 and 47,017 so far in 2014.

“These huge numbers of children are from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. According to the data, 29 percent of the minors detained are Hondurans, 24 percent are Guatemalans, 23 percent are Salvadorans, and 22 percent are Mexicans,” said Insulza, who called for the migrants not to be criminalised.

Images of hundreds of children, on their own or accompanied by relatives or strangers, climbing on to the Mexican freight train known as “The Beast” on their way to the U.S. border, finally aroused the concern of regional governments.

The U.S. administration’s announcement that it would begin mass deportations of children apprehended in the past few months was also a factor. Honduran minors began to be deported on July 14.

The Tegucigalpa conference brought together officials and experts from countries receiving and sending migrants. According to analyses by participants, in Guatemala migration is motivated by poverty, while in El Salvador and Honduras people are fleeing citizen insecurity and criminal violence.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández said these migrants were “displaced by war” and that an emergency “has now erupted among us.”

Out of every nine unaccompanied minors who cross the border into the United States, seven are Hondurans from what are known as the “hot territories” of insecurity and violence, the president said.

Ricardo Puerta, an expert on migration, told IPS that the Central American region is losing its next generation. “This is hitting hard, especially in countries like Honduras where people are fleeing violence and migrants are aged between 12 and 30.

“We are losing many new and good hands and brains, and in general they will not return. If they do come back it will be as tourists, but not permanently,” he said.

Laura García is a cleaner. She earns an average of 12 dollars for each house or office she cleans, but she can barely get by. She wants to emigrate, and does not care about the risks or what she hears about the hardening of U.S. migration policies, whose officials endlessly repeat that Central American migrants are “not welcome”.

“I hear all that, but there is no work here. Some days I clean two houses, some days only one and sometimes none. And as I am over 35, no one wants to give me a job because of my age. I struggle and struggle, but I want to try up in the North, they say they pay well for looking after people,” she told IPS in a faltering voice.

She lives in the poor and conflict-ridden shanty town of San Cristóbal, in the north of Tegucigalpa, which is controlled by gangs. After 18.00, they impose their own law: no one goes in or out without permission from the crime lords.

“They say that a lot can happen on the way (migrant route), attacks, kidnappings, rapes, they say a lot of things, but with the situation as it is here, it’s the same thing to die on the way than right here at the hands of the ‘maras’ (gangs), where you can be shot dead at any time,” Garcia said.

At the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington on July 7, Honduran cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga spoke about the despair experienced in Honduras and the rest of Central America.

“It is like someone has torn open an artery in Honduras and other Central American countries. Fear, grinding poverty and no future mean we are losing our lifeblood – our young people. If this continues to happen, the hearts of our nations will stop beating,” said the cardinal in a speech that has not yet been disseminated in Honduras.

Rodríguez Maradiaga criticised the mass deportations of Honduran children who have started to arrive from Mexico and the United States. “Can you imagine starting your adult life being treated as a criminal? Where would you go from there?” he asked.

The Catholic Church in Honduras has insisted that fear and extreme poverty, together with unemployment and violence, lead parents to take the desperate measure of sending their children off on the dangerous journey of migration in order to save their lives. The Church is demanding inclusive public policies to prevent the flight of a generation.

Violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is considered to have grown as a result of the displacement of drug trafficking cartels from Mexico and Colombia, due to the war on drugs waged by the governments of those countries.

In 2013, the homicide rate in El Salvador was 69.2 per 100,000 people, in Guatemala 30 per 100,000 and in Honduras 79.7 per 100,000, according to official figures.

At present over one million Hondurans are estimated to reside in the United States, out of a total population of 8.4 million. In 2013 remittances to Honduras from this migrant population amounted to 3.1 billion dollars, according to the Honduran Association of Banking Institutions.

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As Winds of Change Blow, South America Builds Its House with BRICS http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/as-winds-of-change-blow-south-america-builds-its-house-with-brics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=as-winds-of-change-blow-south-america-builds-its-house-with-brics http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/as-winds-of-change-blow-south-america-builds-its-house-with-brics/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 14:36:36 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135624 Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma take a family photograph at the 6th BRICS Summit held at Centro de Eventos do Ceara' in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: GCIS

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma take a family photograph at the 6th BRICS Summit held at Centro de Eventos do Ceara' in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: GCIS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

While this week’s BRICS summit might have been off the radar of Western powers, the leaders of its five member countries launched a financial system to rival Bretton Woods institutions and held an unprecedented meeting with the governments of South America.

The New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement signal the will of BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to reconcile global governance instruments with a world where the United States no longer wields the influence that it once did.“The U.S. government clearly doesn't like this, although it will not say much publicly.” -- Mark Weisbrot

More striking for Washington could be the fact that the 6th BRICS summit, held in Brazil, set the stage to display how delighted the heads of state and government of South America – long-regarded as the United States’ “backyard”— were to meet Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

At odds with Washington and just expelled from the Group of Eight (G8) following Russia’s intervention in the Ukrainian crisis, Putin was warmly received in the region, where he also visited Cuba and Argentina.

In Buenos Aires, Putin and the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández, signed agreements on energy, judicial cooperation, communications and nuclear development.

Argentina, troubled by an impending default, is hoping Russian energy giant Gazprom will expand investments in the rich and almost unexploited shale oil and gas fields of Vaca Muerta.

Although Argentina ranks fourth among the Russia’s main trade partners in the region, Putin stressed the country is “a key strategic partner” not only in Latin America, but also within the G20 and the United Nations.

Buenos Aires and Moscow have recently reached greater understanding on a number of international issues, like the conflicts in Syria and Crimea, Argentina sovereignty claim over the Malvinas/Falkland islands and its strategy against the bond holdouts.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Washington and Buenos Aires remains cool, as it has been with Brasilia since last year’s revelations of massive surveillance carried out by the National Security Agency against Brazil.

Some leftist governments –namely Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador— frequently accuse Washington of pursuing an imperialist agenda in the region.

But it was the president of Uruguay, José Mujica –whose government has warm and close ties with the Barack Obama administration— who better explained the shifting balance experienced by Latin America in its relationships with the rest of the world.

Transparency clause

In an interview before the summit, Ambassador Flávio Damico, head of the department of inter-regional mechanisms of the Brazilian foreign ministry, said a clause on transparency in the New Development Bank’s articles of agreement “will constitute the base for the policies to be followed in this area.”

Article 15, on transparency and accountability, states that “the Bank shall ensure that its proceedings are transparent and shall elaborate in its own Rules of Procedure specific provisions regarding access to its documents.”

There are no further references to this subject neither to social or environmental safeguards in the document.

After a dinner in Buenos Aires and a meeting in Brasilia with Putin, Mujica said the current presence of Russia and China in South America opens “new roads” and shows “that this region is important somehow, so the rest of the world perhaps begins to value us a little more.”

Furthermore, he reflected, “pitting one bloc against another… is not good for the world’s future. It is better to share [ties and relationships, in order to] keep alternatives available.”

Almost at the same time, Washington announced it was ready to transfer six Guantanamo Bay detainees to Uruguay, one of the subjects Obama and Mujica agreed on when the Uruguayan visited the U.S. president in May.

Mujica has invited companies from United States, China and now Russia to take part in an international tender to build a deepwater port on the Atlantic ocean which, Uruguay expects, could be a logistic hub for the region.

But beyond Russia, which has relevant commercial agreements with Venezuela, the real centre of gravity in the region is China, the first trade partner of Brazil, Chile and Perú, and the second one of a growing number of Latin American countries.

China’s president Xi Jiping travels on Friday to Argentina, and then to Venezuela and Cuba.

“The U.S. government clearly doesn’t like this, although it will not say much publicly,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“With a handful of rich allies, they have controlled the most important economic decision-making institutions for 70 years, including the IMF [International Monetary Fund], the World Bank, and more recently the G8 and the G20, and they wrote the rules for the WTO [World Trade Organisation],” Weisbrot told IPS.

The BRICS bank “is the first alternative where the rest of the world can have a voice.  Washington does not like competition,” he added.

However, the United States’ foreign priorities are elsewhere: Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

And with the exception of the migration crisis on its southern border and evergreen concerns about security and defence, Washington seems to have little in common with its Latin American neighbours.

“I wish they were really indifferent. But the truth is, they would like to get rid of all of the left governments in Latin America, and will take advantage of opportunities where they arise,” said Weisbrot.

Nevertheless, new actors and interests are operating in the region.

The Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) and the European Union are currently negotiating a trade agreement.

Colombia, Chile, México and Perú have joined forces in the Pacific Alliance, while the last three also joined negotiations to establish the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In this scenario, the BRICS and their new financial institutions pose further questions about the ability of Latin America to overcome its traditional role of commodities supplier and to achieve real development.

“I don’t think that the BRICS alliance is going to get in the way of that,” said Weisbrot.

According to María José Romero, policy and advocacy manager with the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad), the need to “moderate extractive industries” could lead to “changes in the relationship with countries like China, which looks at this region largely as a grain basket.”

Romero, who attended civil society meetings held on the sidelines of the BRICS summit, is the author of “A private affair”, which analyses the growing influence of private interests in the development financial institutions and raises key warnings for the new BRICS banking system.

BRICS nations should be able “to promote a sustainable and inclusive development,” she told IPS, “one which takes into account the impacts and benefits for all within their societies and within the countries where they operate.”

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U.S. Accused of Forcing EU to Accept Tar Sands Oil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-accused-of-forcing-eu-to-accept-tar-sands-oil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-accused-of-forcing-eu-to-accept-tar-sands-oil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-accused-of-forcing-eu-to-accept-tar-sands-oil/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 23:59:06 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135619 Mining tar sands oil at Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. Credit: Chris Arsenault/IPS

Mining tar sands oil at Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. Credit: Chris Arsenault/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

Newly publicised internal documents suggest that U.S. negotiators are working to permanently block a landmark regulatory proposal in the European Union aimed at addressing climate change, and instead to force European countries to import particularly dirty forms of oil.

Environmentalists, working off of documents released through open government requests, say U.S. trade representatives are responding to frustrations voiced by the oil and gas industry here. This week, U.S. and E.U. officials are in Brussels for the sixth round of talks towards what would be the world’s largest free-trade area, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).“These documents show that the U.S. is simply not interested in an open, transparent [negotiation] process.” -- Bill Waren

“These documents show that the U.S. is simply not interested in an open, transparent [negotiation] process,” Bill Waren, a senior trade analyst with Friends of the Earth U.S., a watchdog group, told IPS. “Rather, U.S. representatives have been lobbying on the [E.U. regulatory proposal] in a way that reflects the interests of Chevron, ExxonMobil and others.”

The oil industry has repeatedly expressed concern over the European Union’s potential tightening of regulations around transport fuel emissions, first proposed in 2009 for what’s known as the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD). Yet according to a report released Thursday by Friends of the Earth Europe, the sector now appears to have convinced the U.S. government to work to permanently block the implementation of this standard.

Current negotiating texts for the TTIP talks are unavailable. But critics say the negotiations are forcing open the massive E.U market for a particularly heavy form of petroleum known as tar sands oil, significant deposits of which are in the Canadian province of Alberta.

“Since the adoption of the revised Fuel Quality Directive in 2009, the international oil companies … petroleum refiners, the Cana­dian government and the Albertan provincial government have spent enormous resources and used aggressive lobbying tactics to delay and weaken the implementation proposal,” the new report, which is being supported by a half-dozen environmental groups, states.

“The oil industry and the Canadian government … are afraid that the FQD could set a precedent by recognising and labelling tar sands as highly polluting and inspire similar legislation elsewhere.”

Safeguarding investments

At issue is the mechanism by which the European Union would determine the greenhouse gas emissions of various types of oil and gas. As part of Europe’s broader climate pledges, the FQD was revised to reduce the emissions of transport fuels by six percent by the end of the decade.

In 2011, the E.U. proposed that tar sands and other unconventional oils be formally characterised as having higher greenhouse gas “intensity” than conventional oil, given that they require more energy to produce – 23 percent higher, according to a study for the European Commission.

Yet tar sands have received massive interest from oil majors in recent years. Some 150 billion dollars were invested in Canadian tar sands between 2001 and 2012, according to Friends of the Earth, a figure expected to grow to nearly 200 billion dollars through 2022.

“Major oil investors want to immediately move as much tar sands oil as possible to Europe,” Waren says. “Over the longer term, they want to get the investments that will allow them to develop the infrastructure necessary to ship that exceptionally dirty fossil fuel to Europe.”

Many investors likely assumed the Canadian tar sands oil would have a ready market in the United States. But not only is the U.S. economy reducing its dependence on oil – particularly imports – but the trans-national transport of Canadian tar sands oils has become a major political flashpoint here, and remains uncertain.

So, last year, oil lobbyists here began to push U.S. trade representatives to use the nascent TTIP talks to safeguard the E.U. market for unconventional oils.

“[I]f the EU approves the proposed amendment to the FQD … it would adversely affect the U.S.-EU relationship, potentially eliminating a $32 billion-a-year flow of trade,” David Friedman, a vice-president with American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a major trade association, wrote in a May 2013 letter to the top U.S. trade official.

Now, according to an internal European Commission e-mail uncovered by Friends of the Earth Europe and outlined in the new report, U.S. trade representatives appear to be echoing this analysis.

“[T]he US Mission informed us formally that the US authorities have concerns about the transparency and process, as well as substantive concerns about the existing proposal (the singling out of two crudes – Canada and Venezuela,” the letter, said to be from October 2013, reportedly states.

Canada and Venezuela have the world’s largest deposits of tar sands oil.

The letter also notes that the U.S. negotiators would prefer a “system of averaging out the crudes”, meaning that all forms of oil would simply receive one median score regarding their emissions intensity. This would effectively lift any E.U. bar on unconventional oils – and, according to the Friends of the Earth analysis, add an additional 19 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

‘Threatening’ climate policies

The new revelations come just a week after the leaking of a TTIP paper on E.U. energy policy, which would push the United States to abolish restrictions and automatically approve crude oil exports to the European Union. The document offered a rare glimpse into notoriously secret talks.

“We strongly oppose attempts by the E.U. to use this trade agreement, negotiated behind closed doors, to secure automatic access to U.S. oil and gas,” Ilana Solomon, director of the Responsible Trade Program at the Sierra Club, a conservation and watchdog group, told IPS. “I think there’s strong support for continued restrictions on this issue among both the public and policymakers, due to the implications for both energy security and the climate.”

The new disclosures have indeed caught the attention of the U.S. Congress. Last week, 11 lawmakers renewed a line of questioning from last year about Washington’s influence on E.U. tar sands policy.

“We reiterate that actions pressuring the EU to alter its FQD would be inconsistent with the goals expressed in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan,” the lawmakers wrote to the U.S. trade representative, Michael Froman, “and we remain concerned that trade and investment rules may be being used to undermine or threaten important climate policies of other nations.”

Yet such concerns may already be too late.

Last month, media reports suggested that the European Commission is now considering a proposal to go with the U.S.-pushed “averaging” approach to its fuel-emissions calculation. The same week, Europe’s first shipment of tar sands oil – 570,000 barrels from Canada – reportedly arrived on Spanish shores.

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Zarif and Kerry Signal Momentum on Nuclear Pact http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zarif-and-kerry-signal-momentum-on-nuclear-pact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zarif-and-kerry-signal-momentum-on-nuclear-pact http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zarif-and-kerry-signal-momentum-on-nuclear-pact/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 17:18:48 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135606 By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

As the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme approach the Jul. 20 deadline, both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have signaled through their carefully worded statements that they are now moving toward toward agreement on the two most crucial issues in the talks: the level of Iranian enrichment capability to be allowed and the duration of the agreement.

Their statements after two days of meetings Sunday and Monday suggest that both Kerry and Zarif now see a basis for an agreement that would freeze Iran’s enrichment capacity at somewhere around its present level of 10,000 operational centrifuges for a period of years.Once the difference between the proposed duration of the two sides has been reduced to a very few years, both sides may well conclude that the difference is not important enough to sacrifice the advantages of reaching agreement.

They also indicated that the two sides have not yet agreed on how many years the agreement would last, but that the bargaining on that question has already begun.

The tone and content of Kerry’s statements in particular contrasts sharply with remarks by a senior U.S. official shortly before Kerry’s arrival in Vienna on Jul. 12, which accused Iran of failing to move from “unworkable and inadequate positions that would not in fact assure us that their programme is exclusively peaceful.”

Zarif’s comments to New York Times correspondent David E. Sanger suggested movement toward an accord on the two key issues of the level of enrichment capacity and the duration of the agreement.

“I can try to work out an agreement where we would maintain our current levels,” Zarif was quoted as saying.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that a diplomat involved in the talks had said Iran had proposed freezing the number of centrifuges at 9, 400 – roughly the same number that have actually been operating.

Iran has another 9,000 centrifuges that were installed but never hooked up or operated, suggesting that Iran intended to trade them off for concessions from the P5+1 in eventual negotiations even before Hassan Rouhani became president last year.

The Times story reported that Zarif also “signaled that he had some room to negotiate on how long the freeze would last because Iran has an agreement with Russia to provide fuel for its Bushehr nuclear plant for the next seven years.”

“We want to produce only what we need,” Zarif said. “Since our reactor doesn’t need fuel for another seven years we don’t have to kill ourselves for it. We have time.”

John Kerry addresses reporters in Vienna on July 15. Credit: U.S. State Department

John Kerry addresses reporters in Vienna on July 15. Credit: U.S. State Department

Zarif’s latitude for negotiating on the expiration date may be wider than has been assumed because Iran is pursuing a possible deal with Russia on cooperation in fuel fabrication, according to a document on Iran’s nuclear energy needs recently released by the government.

Such an agreement could eliminate the need to begin replacing Russian fuel immediately after the expiration of the present contract.

In his press conference Tuesday, Kerry refused to address the question of specific numbers of centrifuges discussed with Zariff. Nevertheless, he said, “We have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 that are currently part of their programme is too many.”

By referring to the 19,000 figure rather than to the 10,000 operative centrifuges, Kerry was leaving the door open to a deal that would cut half of Iran’s total centrifuge capacity.

As recently as June, Obama administration officials were leaking to the press a demand that Iran would have to accept a cut in the number of centrifuges to between 2,000 and 4,000.

The rationale for that demand was that Iran’s existing level of centrifuges would allow it the capability to achieve a “breakout” to sufficient weapons-grade uranium to build a single nuclear weapon in only two to three months, and that Washington was insisting on lengthening that “breakout timeline” to six to 12 months.

But the administration is well aware that another way to achieve that objective is to reduce Iran’s low enriched uranium stockpile to close to zero.

Zarif explained to the Times correspondent the Iranian proposal, which was part of the negotiating draft, to guarantee that no breakout capability would exist even with the current level of Iranian enrichment.

Sanger reported that Zarif had “combined his proposal of a freeze with an offer to take the nuclear fuel produced by its 9,000 or so working centrifuges and convert it to an oxide form, a way station to being made into nuclear fuel rods.”

Zarif reportedly said Iran would “guarantee, during the agreement, not to build the facility needed to convert the oxide back into a gas, the step that would have to precede any effort to enrich it to 90 percent purity, which is what is generally considered bomb-grade.”

The foreign minister claimed that his proposal would lengthen the “breakout timeline” to more than a year, according to Sanger. As described by Zarif to IPS in early June, the plan is designed to assure that no low enriched uranium would be available for weapons-grade enrichment for the duration of the agreement.

Sanger reported that American officials are “doubtful” that it would accomplish that objective but offered no explanation and did not quote any official. That suggests that Sanger was relying on what U.S. officials had said about the “breakout” issue before the Kerry-Zarif negotiations.

Kerry did not address the issue of duration of the agreement in his press conference remarks. But a U.S. official was quoted in a Jul. 12 Reuters story as declining to give a specific number but as saying that the United States wanted it to be “in the double digits”.

In earlier briefings for the news media, U.S. officials had indicated that the United States wanted the agreement to last 20 years.

Before the Kerry-Zarif meetings, the senior U.S official briefing journalists Jul. 12 had criticised Ali Khamenei’s Jul. 7 speech referring to Iran’s need for the equivalent of 190,000 first generation centrifuges. The official had said that the number would be “far beyond their current programme” and that the U.S. had said the existing capacity needed to be cut instead.

That suggested that Iran was insisting on getting approval for that increased capacity in the agreement.

In his news conference, however, Kerry clearly suggested that Khamenei’s citation of the 190,000 figure is not a deal-breaker. “[I]t reflects a long-term perception of what they currently have in their minds with respect to nuclear plants to provide power,” Kerry said. “[I]t was framed what way, I believe, in the speech,” he added.

Kerry was implying that Khamenei’s vision of industrial scale enrichment would not fall within the time frame of the agreement, presumably on the basis of his talks with Zarif.

That answer suggests that Kerry is now considering an Iranian proposal on the duration of the agreement that would put off the beginning of Iran’s buildup to industrial level enrichment to a point close to or within the “double digit” period of years demanded by the United States.

Once the difference between the proposed duration of the two sides has been reduced to a very few years, both sides may well conclude that the difference is not important enough to sacrifice the advantages of reaching agreement.

The Obama administration is still assessing whether to request an extension of the talks beyond Sunday’s deadline, but it may not take long to wrap up an agreement once the decision reach compromise on the two key issues is made.

When Sanger of the Times asked Zarif whether agreement could be reached by the Jul. 20 deadline, the foreign minister replied, “We can do that by this evening.”

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

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North’s Policies Affecting South’s Economies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/norths-policies-affecting-souths-economies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=norths-policies-affecting-souths-economies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/norths-policies-affecting-souths-economies/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 08:40:13 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135587

In this column, Yilmaz Akyuz, chief economist of the South Centre in Geneva, argues that in recent years developing countries have lost steam as recovery in advanced economies has remained weak or absent due to the fading effect of counter-cyclical policies and the narrowing of policy space, and he recommends measures to reduce the external financial vulnerability of the South.

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Jul 16 2014 (IPS)

Since the onset of the crisis, the South Centre has argued that policy responses to the crisis by the European Union and the United States has suffered from serious shortcomings that would delay recovery and entail unnecessary losses of income and jobs, and also endanger future growth and stability. 

Despite cautious optimism from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the world economy is not in good shape. Six years into the crisis, the United States has not fully recovered, the Euro zone has barely started recovering, and developing countries are losing steam. There is fear that the crisis is moving to developing countries.

Yilmaz Akyuz

Yilmaz Akyuz

There is concern in regard to the longer-term prospects for three main reasons.

First, the crisis and policy response aggravated systemic problems, whereby inequality has widened. Inequality is no longer only a social problem, but also presents a macroeconomic problem. Inequality is holding back growth and creating temptation to rely on financial bubbles once again in order to generate spending.

Second, global trade imbalances have been redistributed at the expense of developing countries, whereby the Euro zone especially Germany has become a deadweight on global expansion.

Third, systemic financial instability remains unaddressed, despite the initial enthusiasm in terms of reform of governance of international finance, and in addition new fragilities have been added due to the ultra-easy monetary policy.“The external financial vulnerability of the South is linked to developing countries’ integration in global financial markets and the significant liberalisation of external finance and capital accounts in these countries” – Yilmaz Akyuz

The policy response to the crisis has been an inconsistent policy mix, including fiscal austerity and an ultra-easy monetary policy. While the crisis was created by finance, the solution was still sought through finance. Countries focused on a search for a finance-driven boom in private spending via asset price bubbles and credit expansion. Fiscal policy has been invariably tight.

The ultra-easy monetary policy created over one trillion dollars in fiscal benefits in the United States – which was more than the initial fiscal stimulus; the entire initial fiscal stimulus was limited to 800 billion dollars.

There was reluctance to remove debt overhang through comprehensive restructuring (i.e. for mortgages in the United States and sovereign and bank debt in the European Union). Thus, the focus was on bailing out creditors.

There was also reluctance to remove mortgage overhang and no attempt to tax the rich and support the poor, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States – where marginal tax rates are low compared with continental Europe. There has been resistance against permanent monetisation of public deficits and debt, which does not pose more dangers for prices and financial stability than the ultra-easy monetary policy.

The situation in the United States has been better than in other advanced economies. The United States dealt with the financial but not with the economic crisis, whereby recovery has been slow due to fiscal drag and debt overhang. And employment is not expected to return to pre-crisis levels before 2018.

As for the Euro zone, Japan and the United Kingdom, all have had second or third dips since 2008. None of them have restored pre-crisis incomes and jobs.

Meanwhile, trade imbalances have not been removed, but redistributed. East Asian surplus has dropped sharply and Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa have moved to large deficits. Developing countries’ surplus has fallen from 720 billion dollars to 260 billion dollars. On the contrary, advanced economies have moved from deficit to surplus, whereby U.S. deficits have fallen and the Euro zone has moved from a 100 billion dollars deficit to a 300 billion dollars surplus.

As tapering comes to an end and the U.S. Federal Reserve stops buying further assets, the attention will be turned to the question of exit, normalisation and the expectations of increased instability of financial markets for both the United States and the emerging economies.

This exit will also create fiscal problems for the United States because, as bonds held by the Federal Reserve mature and quantitative easing ends, long-term interest rates will rise and the fiscal benefits of the ultra-easy monetary policy would be reversed.

Developing countries lost steam as recovery in advanced economies remained weak or absent due to the fading effect of counter-cyclical policies and the narrowing of policy space. China could not keep on investing and doing the same thing. Another factor contributing to the change of context in developing countries has been the weakened capital inflows that became highly unstable with the deepening of the Euro zone crisis and then Federal Reserve tapering. Several emerging economies have been under stress as markets are pricing-in normalisation of monetary policy even before it has started.

The external financial vulnerability of the South is linked to developing countries’ integration in global financial markets and the significant liberalisation of external finance and capital accounts in these countries. These include opening up securities markets, private borrowing abroad, resident outflows, and opening up to foreign banks. While developing countries did not manage capital flows adequately, the IMF did not provide support in this area, tolerating capital controls only as a last resort and on a temporary basis.

Several deficit developing countries with asset, credit and spending bubbles are particularly vulnerable.  Countries with strong foreign reserves and current account positions would not be insulated from shocks, as seen after the Lehman crisis. When a country is integrated in the international financial system, it will feel the shock one way or another, although those countries with deficits remain more vulnerable.

In regard to policy responses in the case of a renewed turmoil, it is convenient to avoid business-as-usual, including using reserves and borrowing from the IMF or advanced economies to finance large outflows. The IMF lends, not to revive the economy but to keep stable the debt levels and avoid default. It is also inconvenient to adjust through retrenching and austerity.

Ways should be found to bail-in foreign investors and lenders, and use exchange controls and temporary debt standstills. In this sense, the IMF should support such approaches through lending into arrears.

More importantly, the U.S. Federal Reserve is responsible for the emergence of this situation and should take on its responsibility and act as a lender of last resort to emerging economies, through swaps or buying bonds as and when needed. These are not necessarily more toxic than the bonds issued at the time of subprime crisis. The United States has much at stake in the stability of emerging economies. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

 

*   A longer version of this column has been published in the South Centre Bulletin (No. 80, 30 June 2014).

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U.S., Obama’s Image Remains Positive Worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-obamas-image-remains-positive-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-obamas-image-remains-positive-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-obamas-image-remains-positive-worldwide/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:53:43 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135566 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

While Republicans and other right-wingers claim that President Barack Obama has inflicted unprecedented damage on Washington’s global reputation, a major new global survey suggests that the image of the U.S. remains generally positive.

The survey, which was based on nearly 50,000 interviews of respondents in 44 countries, found that the U.S. remains substantially more popular than China, widely considered Washington nearest geopolitical rival, in every major region except the Middle East.

A global median of 65 percent respondents said they held a positive view about the U.S., with majorities in 30 of 43 nations (not including the U.S. itself) expressing a favourable opinion.

By contrast, a median of 49 percent said they felt positively about China, while 55 percent said they had an unfavourable view of the Asian giant. The most negative opinions were expressed in Europe and among some of Asia’s closest neighbours, particularly those which are contesting Beijing’s increasingly assertive territorial claims.

As for Obama himself, the first U.S. African-American president remains broadly popular, with a median approval rating of 56 percent – about 15 percentage points higher than in the U.S. itself — with half or more of the public in 28 of the 44 countries expressing confidence that he will “do the right thing” in world affairs.

But, like the U.S. itself, Obama’s image remains poorest in Arab countries, Turkey, and Pakistan. By contrast, Obama’s approval ratings climbed some 10 percentage points (to 71 percent) in Israel between 2013 and 2014.

Indeed, Israel was the only country of 21 nations surveyed in 2009, when he became president and expectations for his tenure were highest around the world, where Obama’s approval ratings improved over the five-year period.

The latest survey, however, also found major plunges in his popularity in Germany and Brazil, compared to 2013, which Pew analysts attributed to revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been conducting major spying operations on the phone conversations of the two countries’ leaders.

It also found a sharp drop in positive assessments of Obama in Russia – down to only 15 percent of respondents – which Pew said was most likely related to the sharp uptick in bilateral tensions over ongoing crisis over Ukraine and Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

The Pew poll, which was conducted between mid-March and early June, is the latest in an annual series that the organisation’s “Global Attitudes Project” has carried out since 2002. The surveys have covered public opinion on a broad range of international issues in as few as nine and as many as 47 each year over that period.

The survey is quite comprehensive in scope, and its results are released in instalments over the summer. Last week, for example, Pew released findings regarding Russia’s global image, which, according to the survey, had suffered in every region of the world over the past year, particularly in Europe and the U.S. where nearly three in four respondents reported unfavourable views of Moscow.

The 44 countries polled in the latest survey, for which full results will be released in stages over the coming weeks and months, included nine European countries – France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, the UK, and Ukraine; seven countries in the Greater Middle East – Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia, and Turkey; and 11 Asian nations – Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In Latin America, the survey included Argentina, Brazil. Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela; while seven sub-Saharan countries were surveyed – Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. The U.S. itself was included in the survey.

In addition to comparing perceptions and images of the U.S. and China, the latest showed focused on international reaction to disclosures by former NSA employee Edward Snowden about Washington’s use of electronic surveillance of foreign leaders and citizens, as well as Washington’s reliance on drone aircraft to kill alleged terrorists in foreign countries.

The survey found strong opposition nearly across the board – except in the U.S. itself — to both activities, although it also found little evidence in most countries that they had significantly harmed Washington’s image.

In 37 of the 44 countries, half or more of respondents said they disapproved of drones strikes against suspected terrorists. In 26 countries, more than seven of 10 respondents said they opposed the practice.

As important, perhaps, the survey found that opposition to drones strikes has grown steadily – and significantly in a number of countries, particularly Senegal, Uganda, France, Germany, the Philippines, Mexico, Japan, and even within the U.S. itself – compared to 2013, when Pew asked the same question.

Overall, opposition was found to be strongest in Latin America, the Greater Middle East, Greece, Senegal, Spain, and Japan. On the other hand, pluralities and majorities in Israel, the U.S., Nigeria, and Kenya said they approved of Washington’s use of drone strikes.

As to the NSA’s monitoring activities, majorities in most countries said they approved of efforts to spy on terrorists. At the same time, majorities in nearly all of the countries said they opposed U.S. monitoring of emails and phone calls of foreign leaders, and particularly average citizens. That latter sentiment was particularly strong in Greece, Brazil, Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia, according to the survey.

On China’s image, pluralities or majorities in all Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries covered by the survey held positive views. In other regions, however, impressions were far more mixed.

Majorities in the U.S., France, Spain, Poland, Germany, and Italy held said their overall views were negative, while in Ukraine and Russia, nearly two thirds of respondents said they had a positive image of China. The Greater Middle East was similarly split, with the most positive views found in Tunisia and Palestine, while Jordan and Turkey were strongly negative.

Majorities in six of the 10 Asian countries (not including China itself) of up to 78 percent (Pakistan) expressed favourable views, while respondents in the three countries with which China has ongoing maritime disputes – Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan – were strongly negative. In India, where the land border with China remains in contention, a plurality of respondents voiced negative view of their northern neighbour.

The survey found a growing belief — compared to 2008 when Pew asked the same question — that China will eventually replace the U.S. as the world’s greatest superpower or has already done so.

A global median of 49 percent of respondents agreed with that proposition, compared to 32 percent who disagreed. In 2008, just before the global financial crisis that broke out with the collapse of the U.S. investment firm Lehman Brothers, the split was 41 percent who agreed that China would surpass the U.S. and 39 percent who disagreed.

The latest poll found that the view that Beijing will indeed replace Washington as the pre-eminent global power was strongest in Europe (60 percent) and weakest in Asia (42 percent).

The poll also found significant generation gaps on several issues. Younger respondents were found to hold significantly more favourable views of the U.S. than their older fellow-citizens in more than half of the countries, particularly in Asia (including China), Latin America, and Africa.

Similarly, younger respondents also held significantly more favourable views of China than their older counterparts, particularly in Western Europe, Latin America, and Africa.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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Major Companies Push for More, Easier Renewable Energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/major-companies-push-for-more-easier-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=major-companies-push-for-more-easier-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/major-companies-push-for-more-easier-renewable-energy/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 22:08:31 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135556 According to the U.S. government, only around 13 percent of domestic energy production last year was from renewable sources. Credit: Miriam Mannak/IPS

According to the U.S. government, only around 13 percent of domestic energy production last year was from renewable sources. Credit: Miriam Mannak/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Some of the largest companies in the United States have banded together to call for a substantial increase in the production of renewable electricity, as well as for more simplicity in purchasing large blocs of green energy.

A dozen U.S-based companies, most of which operate globally, say they want to significantly step up the amount of renewable energy they use, but warn that production levels remain too low and procurement remains too complex. The 12 companies have now put forward a set of principles aimed at helping to “facilitate progress on these challenges” and lead to a broader shift in the market.“The problem these companies are seeing is that they’re paying too much, even though they know that cost-effective renewable energy is available." -- Marty Spitzer

“We would like our efforts to result in new renewable power generation,” the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles, released Friday, state. The companies note “our desire to promote new projects, ensure our purchases add new capacity to the system, and that we buy the most cost-competitive renewable energy products.”

The principles consist of six broad reforms, aimed at broadening and strengthening the renewable energy marketplace. Companies want more choice in their procurement options, greater cost competitiveness between renewable and traditional power sources, and “simplified processes, contracts and financing” around the long-term purchase of renewables.

Founding signatories to the principles, which were shepherded by civil society, include manufacturers and consumer goods companies (General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Proctor & Gamble), tech giants (Facebook, HP, Intel, Sprint) and major retailers (Walmart, the outdoor-goods store REI).

These 12 companies combined have renewable energy consumption targets of more than eight million megawatt hours of energy through the end of this decade, according to organisers. Yet the new principles, meant to guide policy discussions, have come about due to frustration over the inability of the U.S. renewables market to keep up with spiking demand.

“The problem these companies are seeing is that they’re paying too much, even though they know that cost-effective renewable energy is available. These companies are used to having choices,” Marty Spitzer, director of U.S. climate policy at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a conservation and advocacy group that helped to spearhead the principles, told IPS.

WWF was joined in the initiative by the World Resources Institute and the Rocky Mountain Institute, both think tanks that focus on issues of energy and sustainability.

“The companies have also recognised that it’s often very difficult to procure renewables and bring them to their facilities,” Spitzer continues. “While most of them didn’t think of it this way at first, they’ve now realised that they have been experiencing a lot of the same problems.”

‘Too difficult’

In recent years, nearly two-thirds of big U.S. businesses have created explicit policies around climate goals and renewable energy usage, according to WWF. While there is increasing political and public compunction behind these new policies, a primary goal remains simple cost-cutting and long-term efficiencies.

“A significant part of the value to us from renewable energy is the ability to lock in energy price certainty and avoid fuel price volatility,” the principles note.

In part due to political deadlock in Washington, particularly around issues of climate and energy, renewable production in the United States remains too low to keep up with this corporate demand. According to the U.S. government, only around 13 percent of domestic energy production last year was from renewable sources.

Accessing even that small portion of the market remains unwieldy.

“We know cost-competitive renewable energy exists but the problem is that it is way too difficult for most companies to buy,” Amy Hargroves, director of corporate responsibility and sustainability for Sprint, a telecommunications company, said in a statement.

“Very few companies have the knowledge and resources to purchase renewable energy given today’s very limited and complex options. Our hope is that by identifying the commonalities among large buyers, the principles will catalyse market changes that will help make renewables more affordable and accessible for all companies.”

One of the most far-reaching sustainability commitments has come from the world’s largest retailer, Walmart. A decade ago, the company set an “aspirational” goal for itself, to be supplied completely by renewable energy.

Last year, it created a more specific goal aimed at helping to grow the global market for renewables, pledging to drive the production or procurement of seven billion kilowatt hours of renewable energy globally by the end of 2020, a sixfold increase over 2010. (The company is also working to increase the energy efficiency of its stores by 20 percent over this timeframe.)

While the company has since become a leader in terms of installing solar and wind projects at its stores and properties, it has experienced frustrations in trying to make long-term bulk purchases of renewable electricity from U.S. utilities.

“The way we finance is important … cost-competitiveness is very important, as is access to longer-term contracts,” David Ozment, senior director of energy at Walmart, told IPS. “We like to use power-purchase agreements to finance our renewable energy projects, but currently only around half of the states in the U.S. allow for these arrangements.”

Given Walmart’s size and scale, Ozment says the company is regularly asked by suppliers, regulators and utilities about what it is looking for in power procurement. The new principles, he says, offer a strong answer, providing direction as well as flexibility for whatever compulsion is driving a particular company’s energy choices, whether “efficiency, conservation or greenhouse gas impact”.

“We’ve seen the price of solar drop dramatically over the past five years, and we hope our participation helped in that,” he says. “Now, these new principles will hopefully create the scale to continue to drop the cost of renewables and make them more affordable for everyone.”

Internationally applicable

Ozment is also clear that the new principles need not apply only to U.S. operations, noting that the principles “dovetail” with what Walmart is already doing internationally.

In an e-mail, a representative for Intel, the computer chip manufacturer, likewise told IPS that the company is “interested in promoting renewables markets in countries where we have significant operations … at a high level, the need to make renewables both more abundant and easier to access applies outside the U.S.”

For his part, WWF’s Spitzer says that just one of the principles is specific to the U.S. regulatory context.

“Many other countries have their own instruments on renewable production,” he says, “but five out of these six principles are relevant and perfectly appropriate internationally.”

Meanwhile, both the principles and their signatories remain open-ended. Spitzer says that just since Friday he’s heard from additional companies interested in adding their support.

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Europe and the United States, Allies in Crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/europe-and-the-united-states-allies-in-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europe-and-the-united-states-allies-in-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/europe-and-the-united-states-allies-in-crisis/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 06:25:23 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135530

In this column, Professor Joaquín Roy, Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, argues that although the United States and Europe are in crisis, they are still a magnet for the rest of the world, as shown by the ceaseless waves of migrants they attract.

By Joaquín Roy
BARCELONA, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

A few decades ago, even before the end of the Cold War and before and after Ronald Reagan’s election to the White House, analyses regularly referred to U.S. decadence. At other times, it was Europe’s turn for pessimistic descriptions, especially when it could not overcome its ambivalence over deepening integration, and above all because of the failure of its constitutional project. 

The West was in crisis. And now the pair are apparently going through a similar phase, with each one trying to outdo the other in inferiority.

The United States seems to be in the doldrums because of the apparently erratic foreign policy of President Barack Obama, who does not seem to be profiting from surmounting the legacy of George W. Bush’s actions in the Middle East.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

Obama’s agenda based on “leading from behind” is creating serious problems that would damage his re-election chances if he were eligible (which he is not).

Hillary Clinton may inherit this liability if she finally decides to run for the presidency. What is certain is that indecision in Syria, the disaster of Iraq’s disintegration and the still unsolved challenge of Russia in Ukraine, create a picture of the United States in international decline.“Both partners [Europe and the United States] are still the natural allies that could lead the world out of the crisis. And the future of both is welded to their role as immigration destinations” – Joaquín Roy

The European Union, for its part, does not offer a more hopeful scenario, and only if it is able to strengthen its institutions following the European Parliament elections in May will it be able to overcome the generalised forecast of a problematic future.

Gripped by the rise of populism and neo-nationalism and with its economy weighed down by inequality and lack of sustained growth, the European Union is a long way from offering alternative leadership and hope for the rest of the planet, and appropriately partnering the United States to beat the global crisis.

Yet curiously, this odd couple, which can be subsumed in what is generously called the West, can pride itself on an immense capital that is a basis not only for survival, but of sustained leadership for the rest of the world.

In both cases, a systematic humanitarian tragedy reveals their mutual strength and guarantees their future survival. Dramatic, repeated migration processes produce huge human capital flows to both Europe and the United States compared with other regions.

On the one hand, thousands of Latin American teenagers are invading the United States in search of a much better future than they are leaving behind in Central America, racked by crime, poverty and inequality.

On the other hand, the shores of Italy are being bombarded by desperate migrants cast up by traffickers, resulting in shipwrecks and deaths by suffocation. Elsewhere, attempts to take the Spanish border by storm in the enclaves in Morocco have ceased to call attention as newsworthy.

What do these apparently dissimilar scenarios reveal?

Quite simply, that the strength of these partners in crisis is based on their relatively powerful magnetism for migrants.

For all the present difficulties suffered by many European countries, the prospect of life in Europe is comparatively far better than in Africa or Asia, and even Latin America, in spite of the fact that many immigrants are returning to their countries of origin.

The future and the present of the United States – as it always was in the past – remains linked to the immigration pool. Hence, U.S. sectors that oppose migration reform are not only destined to fail, they are also currently rendering poor service to their country.

Both regions, now engaged in exploring a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement, are destined to surpass other world regions in terms of standard of living and future expectations.

Both partners are still the natural allies that could lead the world out of the crisis. And the future of both is welded to their role as immigration destinations.

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Khamenei Remarks Show Both Sides Maneuvre on Enrichment http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/khamenei-remarks-show-both-sides-maneuvre-on-enrichment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=khamenei-remarks-show-both-sides-maneuvre-on-enrichment http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/khamenei-remarks-show-both-sides-maneuvre-on-enrichment/#comments Sat, 12 Jul 2014 15:44:15 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135516 Supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Credit: GFDL creative commons

Supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Credit: GFDL creative commons

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Jul 12 2014 (IPS)

Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s comments on the nuclear talks Monday provided an unusual glimpse of diplomatic maneuvering by the U.S.-led coalition of five nuclear powers and Germany on the issue of enrichment capability to be allowed in a comprehensive agreement.

But his remarks also suggested that Iran was responding with its own diplomatic maneuvre on the issue. Both sides appear to have put forward demands that they knew were non-starters with the intention of moderating their demands substantially in return for major concessions from the other side.Khamenei was suggesting that that the U.S. is now ready to accept a 10,000 SWU limit in return for Iran’s agreeing to forsake the further increases that Iran has been insisting will be necessary.

Khamenei described the United States and the P5+1 as demanding initially that Iran’s annual enrichment capability be cut to the equivalent of as few as 500 to 1,000 centrifuges – as little as 2.6 percent percent of its present level of 19,000 centrifuges.

But he also suggested they were now aiming at getting Iran to accept a capability equivalent to the annual production of 10,000 centrifuges on the condition that it would be the final level for the duration of the agreement.

“They seek to make Iran accept 10,000 SWUs, which means the products of 10,000 centrifuges of older type that we already have,” said Khamenei in a speech to an audience that included President Hassan Rouhani. The P5+1 had “started with 500 SWU and 1,000 SWU”, he said, referring to demands advanced by the P5+1 in the negotiations last month.

The Iranian leader’s assertion about the coalition’s position last month is consistent with a statement by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Jun. 14 that “the West wants to slash the number of centrifuges” that Iran would be allowed to maintain to “several hundred”.

Secretary of State John Kerry had said in April that the U.S. intention was to demand very deep cuts in Iran’s enrichment capability, arguing it was necessary to lengthen the time it would take Iran to turn its uranium enriched to 3.5 percent into enough weapons grade uranium for a single bomb to six to 12 months.

What he did not acknowledge publicly, however, is that such cuts were not necessary to achieve such a lengthening of the “breakout” timeline, because it could be also be accomplished by the reduction of Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium and measures to avoid the accumulation of a new stockpile.

Iran pledged as part of the interim agreement to begin the process of converting its UF6, the gaseous form of low enriched uranium, into oxide powder, which would not be available for further enrichment without reversing the process. It is now ready to begun operating a new facility specifically devoted to that conversion, according to Reuters.

Khamenei was suggesting that that the U.S. is now ready to accept a 10,000 SWU limit in return for Iran’s agreeing to forsake the further increases that Iran has been insisting will be necessary.

10,000 SWU would coincide with Iran’s current production capability, based on the 10,000 primitive first generation centrifuges that have been operational. Another 9,000 centrifuges have been installed but have never operated, apparently with the intention of using them as bargaining chips.

In what appears to have been a response to the diplomatic maneuvre by the P5+1, Khamenei announced a new Iranian demand for an increase after 2021 to a level that is nearly twice as high as what independent experts have estimated is necessary to support the Bushehr reactor.

Khamenei identified the level of enrichment capability that Iran’s atomic energy organisation would eventually require as “190,000 SWU”.

A group of Princeton University specialists estimated in a recent article on Iran’s enrichment needs that it would require about 100,000 SWU to produce enough low enriched uranium to provide fuel for the Bushehr reactor – the basis for Iran’s demand for an increase.

Khamenei also made a point of saying that the need was more than five years out, seeming to leave open the possibility that Iran would agree to hold off on adding the additional enrichment capacity he said was needed. “Maybe this need will not be for this year, or two years, or five years, but this is the final need of the country,” Khamenei said.

The head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, who commented on the issue to various news outlets in Iran Wednesday, also employed a formula that avoided closing the door to negotiations on the question of when Iran would have to begin building more centrifuges. He told the Young Journalists’ Club that 190,000 SWU “is our real need, the most basic need, in an eight-year outlook.”

Salehi’s reference to eight years is related to the fact that the contract with Russia to supply nuclear fuel for the Bushehr reactor expires in 2021. Iranian officials have said Iran intends to take over the fabrication of fuel for Bushehr at that time, which would require much higher levels of enrichment capability.

Khamenei’s remarks suggest that Iran has adopted its own maneuvre aimed at positioning Iran to negotiate for a much smaller increase after a period of years in which Iran would hold at roughly the present level of operational enrichment capability.

An unnamed U.S. official who briefed reporters Jul. 3 said that the capability for “industrial scale enrichment” – i.e., the capability to provide fuel for Bushehr — “isn’t anything that’s under consideration.”

But the same official also said, “What choices they make after they get to normalcy — that is after a long duration of an agreement, when they will be treated as any other non-nuclear weapons state under the NPT – will of course be their choice.”

The official’s reference to Iran’s freedom to undertake enrichment once the agreement expires raises the question whether the negotiation of the termination date for the agreement could be the vehicle for reaching a compromise on the issue.

U.S. officials have not said anything publicly about the issue of the duration of the agreement. However, Robert Einhorn, whose long paper for the Brookings Institution published Mar. 31 was widely regarded as reflecting Obama administration thinking, said the United States wanted the comprehensive agreement to last “about twenty years”.

Iranian statements appear to rule out agreeing to any duration of more than five to eight years.

Another way to bridge the large gap between the two sides in the final days of the negotiation, however, may be to agree on a provision for review and adjustment of the level of enrichment capacity allowable under the agreement that would come shortly before the expiration of the Russian contract in 2021. Einhorn suggested such a review process for different provisions of the agreement.

Reviewing the longer-term level of Iranian enrichment after several years would allow Iran to demonstrate that it has not pursued a “breakout” capability by drawing down its existing stockpile of low-enriched uranium and not allowing a new stockpile to accumulate. That is what Iran’s proposal is aimed at doing, as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told IPS in an interview last month.

Especially if the trend toward U.S. and Iran interests in relation to jihadist forces in the Middle East continues to develop during that period, a future administration might be far more willing to ease the present political restrictions on the Iranian nuclear programme in the final years of the agreement.

Whether the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will continue to hold sway over Congress would remain a crucial question governing the politics of the issue, however.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, was published Feb. 14.

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U.S. Groups Reject Anti-Gay Discrimination Bill over Religious Exemption http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-groups-reject-anti-gay-discrimination-bill-over-religious-exemption/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-groups-reject-anti-gay-discrimination-bill-over-religious-exemption http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-groups-reject-anti-gay-discrimination-bill-over-religious-exemption/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 23:43:51 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135463 President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order on employment discrimination in coming weeks. Credit: Bigstock

President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order on employment discrimination in coming weeks. Credit: Bigstock

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 9 2014 (IPS)

Civil rights groups across the United States have withdrawn their support from a major legislative proposal that would outlaw workplace discrimination against sexual minorities, warning that recent legal developments could exempt companies on religious grounds.

Five major legal advocacy groups are arguing that the legislation, known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), does not allow for total workplace protection. Rather, it “provides religiously affiliated organizations – including hospitals, nursing homes and universities – with a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people,” the groups note in a joint statement released Tuesday.“[LGBT people] want to be judged in the same way any other employee is judged: Can we do the work? If we can, we should be free from discriminatory treatment that targets us because of who we are.” -- Kate Kendell

Previously, the groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and prominent gay rights organisations, had supported ENDA. But their turnaround comes a week after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a contentious decision, known as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which allows private companies to withhold contraceptive coverage from their employees based on religious preferences.

“What we’ve seen in last week’s Supreme Court decision is a really concerted effort on the part of LGBT opponents to broadly endorse rights to discriminate,” Ian Thompson, a Washington representative of the ACLU, told IPS.

It is “unacceptable”, he noted, to “allow taxpayer-funded discrimination under the clause of religious exemption.”

It is significant to note that this religious exemption clause has always been included within ENDA. However, while the clause has long been a controversial component of the legislation, it is the provocative nature of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling that has encouraged legal advocacy groups to reject ENDA entirely.

Lucas Rivers, a prominent LGBT activist working in the U.S government, told IPS that “strong withdrawal [from ENDA] in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision is the right move, as the Supreme Court’s decision has opened up doors to employment discrimination, whether it be women and their rights or gays and their rights.”

Yet other organisations have been voicing opposition to ENDA for much longer.

“We have been disturbed by the exemption in ENDA for years, and that concern has been very public,” Kate Kendell of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), an advocacy group, told IPS.

Kendell also notes that “[the NCLR] has received unanimous expressions of support from [the LGBT community]. Our community is bright – they get that the provision in ENDA would provide those who oppose our equality a license to discriminate.”

Kendell is careful to note that her organisation’s dispute is not with the legitimacy of religious belief.

“Our nation respects and accommodates a wide variety of religious faiths, a quality we fully embrace. But it is not acceptable for some to use religion as a bludgeon to do harm to others,” she says.

“[LGBT people] want to be judged in the same way any other employee is judged: Can we do the work? If we can, we should be free from discriminatory treatment that targets us because of who we are.”

Kendall says she’s uncertain about the future of ENDA, but expresses confidence that a stronger bill can eventually be drawn up.

“We don’t know what we can get unless we fight for it,” she says. “If we combine forces and lobby for better language, I have no doubt we can get a better bill.”

Urgent need

Still, some prominent groups do remain committed to ENDA.

The Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBT rights group, stated on Wednesday that it will continue to support ENDA for a “very simple reason … it will guarantee millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in all 50 states explicit, reliable protections from discrimination in the workplace.”

In regards to the bill’s religious exemption clause, the group says it is urging its allies in Congress to recognise that LGBT people “do not have the luxury of waiting for these protections,” while an “urgent need” for equality persists.

Meanwhile, some U.S. legislators have been looking for ways to directly counter the recent Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. New legislation, announced Wednesday, would seek to expressly forbid private companies from using religious exemption to deny employee contraception “or any other vital health service required by federal law”.

Although the new bill would have no direct impact on workplace discrimination for LGBT individuals, the proposal’s sponsors see it as a significant step towards separating religious preferences from employees’ fundamental rights.

“Particularly in light of the recent Hobby Lobby decision, we must be more careful than ever to ensure that religious liberty, a cherished American value intended to shield individuals from government interference, is not wielded as a sword against employees who may not share their employers’ religious beliefs,” Jerrold Nadler, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and one of the new bill’s co-sponsors, said Wednesday.

President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order on employment discrimination in coming weeks. As such, a similar fight is now brewing of that mandate’s details.

On Tuesday, a group of 100 progressive religious leaders urged the president to exclude any religious exemption from the order. Instead, the groups called on the president to remain committed to the principle of equality under the Constitution.

“If contractors were allowed to selectively follow employment or other laws according to their religious beliefs, we would quickly create an untenable morass of legal disputes,” the letter states.

“Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.”

Some civil rights groups have applauded the letter. The ACLU’s Thompson told IPS that the move was “incredibly important” in the context of the broader equality debate.

“It shows is that religious leaders and faith organisations do not speak with simply one voice on these issues,” he says. “Rather, it shows that there are two sides to the faith community, and it is very helpful for the community’s pro-equality voices to come forward.”

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OPINION: Obama’s Quick Fix Won’t Solve the Regional Refugee Crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-obamas-quick-fix-wont-solve-the-regional-refugee-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-obamas-quick-fix-wont-solve-the-regional-refugee-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-obamas-quick-fix-wont-solve-the-regional-refugee-crisis/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 19:36:38 +0000 Michelle Brane http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135459 A migrant child is escorted by a U.S. immigration enforcement agent. Credit: cc by 2.0

A migrant child is escorted by a U.S. immigration enforcement agent. Credit: cc by 2.0

By Michelle Brané
SAN FRANCISCO, Jul 9 2014 (IPS)

In recent months, an unprecedented surge of refugee women and children has been traveling alone to the United States to seek protection at our southern border.

The vast majority are fleeing their homes in the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and risking their lives as they make long and incredibly dangerous journeys to seek refuge on our soil.

The Women’s Refugee Commission has been closely monitoring this population since 2011. Through our research, we concluded over two years ago that without major changes in U.S. aid or foreign policy to the Central America region, the United States would continue to receive more vulnerable migrants due to the humanitarian crisis developing in the region.

Michelle Brané

Courtesy of Michelle Brané

Organised crime, forced gang recruitment, violence against women, and weak economic and social systems are all contributing to the pervasive insecurity in these countries.

The flow of refugees fleeing from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala has not only continued, but has increased dramatically and rapidly as violence in the region has escalated.

And refugees are not only coming to the United States. The United Nations has found that asylum requests in the the neighbouring countries of Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize have skyrocketed by 712 percent since 2009.

While some children may be seeking to reunite with their parents or family in the United States, the motivating factor forcing them from their homes is violence and persecution. The children we spoke with told us they feared they would die if they stayed in their home country, and although they might die during the journey, at least they would have a chance.

Particularly concerning about the recent surge is that the children making the perilous migration journey are now younger than in years past. It has become common for children as young as four to 10 years old to be picked up and arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol.

Additionally, a higher percentage of the children are girls, many of whom arrive pregnant as a result of sexual violence. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently conducted research with this population and found that 58 percent of the children interviewed raised international protection concerns.

Children also come to the United States with their parents. Since 2012, the number of families arriving at the southern border of the United States has increased significantly. The vast majority of these families are made up of women with very young children and are fleeing the same violence and insecurity driving the refugee children.

Our country has a long and dedicated commitment to human rights, due process and the assurance that individuals who arrive at our borders seeking safety are not turned away without addressing their claims.

Under international and domestic law, we have an obligation to properly screen and provide protection for unaccompanied minors, trafficking victims and asylum seekers who arrive at our borders.

In recent months, however, the government has been unprepared and overwhelmed by the numbers of children and families in need. Rather than addressing the issue in a manner that is in line with our American ideals and recognising it as a regional refugee situation, the Obama administration is looking for a quick fix and compromising our values and the lives of women and children in the process by responding as though it were an immigration issue.

We are deeply concerned by the government’s recent announcement that it will drastically expand detention of families and will expedite the processing of asylum cases.

Harsh detention and deportation policies endanger the well-being of children and families, present a risk that individuals with legitimate claims to asylum and other forms of protection will be summarily returned to countries where their lives are seriously threatened, and do not work as a deterrent against future migration.

Additionally, the administration has proposed to roll back laws that are in place to protect children, in order to quickly and with no due process, deport kids back to the dangers they escaped.

This humanitarian refugee crisis is a complex human tragedy and needs both short-term and long-term attention. It requires a holistic approach that prioritises additional resources for addressing the root causes of this crisis, strengthening protection in the region, and reinforcing our protection and adjudication of claims, not blocking access to protection and sending women and children back to the dangerous situations they are fleeing without adequate due process.

The United States must not compromise its long-standing commitment to humanitarian principles in the hope of finding a quick solution.

Michelle Brané is director of the Migrant Rights & Justice Programme at the Women’s Refugee Commission. This article was originally published by New America Media – a network of ethnic news organisations in the U.S., and is reproduced here by arrangement with them.

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U.S. Moves to Address Chronic “Teacher Equity” Problem http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-moves-to-address-chronic-teacher-equity-problem/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-moves-to-address-chronic-teacher-equity-problem http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-moves-to-address-chronic-teacher-equity-problem/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 00:07:24 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135438 The U.S. Department of Education has recently strengthened its focus on reducing nationwide racial and socioeconomic disparities within school discipline. Credit: Bigstock

The U.S. Department of Education has recently strengthened its focus on reducing nationwide racial and socioeconomic disparities within school discipline. Credit: Bigstock

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 9 2014 (IPS)

The U.S. government has moved to tackle longstanding patterns of inequitable teacher quality, specifically in terms of how low quality teachers tend to be assigned to poor and marginalised communities across the country.

Both students of colour and students in high-poverty schools are less likely than their counterparts to receive highly effective teaching. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education launched an initiative aimed at addressing what Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls the “systemic inequities that short-change students in high-poverty, high-minority schools across our country.”"Students of colour and students of high-poverty status are more likely to attend schools where less money is spent and where less extracurricular activities are offered, so the problem is much larger than just the teachers.” -- Dwanna Nicole

The problem is not only the lack of a solid teacher support and development system. According to President Barack Obama, also speaking Monday, “the kids who need the most skilled teachers are the least likely to get them.”

The Department of Education will now require states submit comprehensive plans to assign “effective educators” to poor and minority students. To implement these plans, the federal government will be offering some 4.2 million dollars in grants.

The government will also publish regular profiles evaluating how states and districts are improving their teacher equity.

While education associations and advocates are applauding the move, many are questioning the initiative’s scope and details. Although the government’s announcement noted that it will mandate states to “ensure every student has effective educators”, it did not specify how officials would measure educator effectiveness.

“We think that it is a commendable short-term effort to help combat inequity in the classroom,” Dwanna Nicole, a policy advocate for the Advancement Project, an advocacy group, told IPS.

“At the same time, we believe the inequity issue is much larger. We know that students of colour and students of high-poverty status are more likely to attend schools where less money is spent and where less extracurricular activities are offered, so the problem is much larger than just the teachers.”

For instance, Nicole notes that the Department of Education has recently strengthened its focus on reducing nationwide racial and socioeconomic disparities within school discipline.

“But it would be great to see more resources devoted to that effort as well … We want school districts to understand the harsh consequences of these extreme policies,” she says.

“A lot of the time, young people also need additional support – this includes mental health support, after-school support. And we also want there to be better training available for teachers.”

Furthermore, rather than solely considering standardised test scores to be a measure of educator effectiveness, Nicole says that the government needs to take into account additional factors, such as teachers’ success with classroom management techniques.

The National Educators Association (NEA), a prominent labour union, also says that it “fully supports the idea that students in challenging schools must have fully prepared and effective educators.” Yet the group noted its concern over the Education Department’s lack of definition for an “effective educator”.

“The current federal law offers a big loophole that calls individuals still in teacher training as ‘highly qualified’,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in a statement Monday.

175 billion dollars a year

Although inequity within teaching quality has existed for some time, recent estimates have suggested that this disparity could become costly to the country as a whole.

In 2011, researchers with the Center for American Progress (CAP), a think tank here, published a district-by-district evaluation. They concluded that “highly productive districts were more focused on improving student outcomes,” while low-productivity school districts were more likely to be comprised of “students from more disadvantaged backgrounds” – and had the potential to “cost the nation as much as $175 billion a year.”

CAP is slated to release updated findings on the issue on Wednesday. The centre’s executive vice president for policy, Carmel Martin, has thrown her support behind the new Department of Education initiative, characterising it as an “effort to ensure that excellent educators are teaching in the classrooms that need them most.”

Advocates are now turning their focus to how the states will respond. Education policy has become a politically explosive issue in recent years, with some conservatives urging the abolition of the Department of Education altogether.

“The U.S. Department of Education should expect states to report their data and set meaningful goals for addressing inequity where it exists. And it should hold states accountable for meeting those goals,” Daria Hall, the director of K-12 policy development at the Education Trust, an advocacy group, told IPS.

However, Hall also warned that the department should not mandate specific approaches for the states to follow in their attempts to achieve equity.

“The specific strategies are best developed by states and districts, as they’re the ones who are closer to the problems and best able to develop targeted responses,” she says.

“That said, it is important to find and elevate examples of strong, equity-focused local policies and practices, and that’s something the Department can and should do through guidance and technical assistance.”

In addition to using multiple measures to assess teacher effectiveness, Hall believes that a variety of teacher development opportunities should be afforded to educators.

“Forced placement will not be an effective strategy for achieving equitable access. So states and districts should be focused instead on putting in place policies and practices that draw strong teachers to the low-income students and students of colour who need them the most,” she says.

“This means focusing on effective hiring practices, strong school leadership, supportive school climate and culture, and opportunities for professional advancement for those teachers willing to take on the challenge of teaching in high-need schools.”

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Bahrain’s Expulsion of U.S. Official Sets Back Ties, Reform Hopes http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/bahrains-expulsion-of-u-s-official-sets-back-ties-reform-hopes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bahrains-expulsion-of-u-s-official-sets-back-ties-reform-hopes http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/bahrains-expulsion-of-u-s-official-sets-back-ties-reform-hopes/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 01:55:35 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135419 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 8 2014 (IPS)

Monday’s expulsion order by Bahrain against a visiting senior U.S. official has set back tentative hopes for internal reforms that could reconcile the kingdom’s Sunni-led government with its majority Shia community and drawn a sharp protest from Washington.

The surprise declaration that Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski was persona non grata (PNG) was greeted with calls by rights groups here and in Bahrain for a strong reaction on Washington’s part.Preoccupied by more pressing crises elsewhere in the region, notably Syria, Egypt, Libya, and now Iraq, the administration has appeared to give Bahrain a lower priority.

For its part, the State Department said it was “deeply concerned” about the expulsion order and denounced the action as “not consistent with the strong partnership between the United States and Bahrain.”

Moreover, the fact that the expulsion order came just two weeks after the widely welcomed acquittal on terrorism charges of a top leader, Khalil al-Marzouq, of the Shi’ite-led al-Wefaq opposition party has created consternation among officials and other observers regarding the kingdom’s intentions.

“This is really an alarm that the U.S. should’ve been hearing for some time now — that it needs to reassess its relationship with the Bahrain government,” said Brian Dooley, a Gulf expert at Human Rights First (HRF).

“It’s an unreliable government with an increasingly erratic ruling family that, on the one hand, is quite happy with U.S. military support, but, on the other, also vilifies U.S. diplomats,” he told IPS in a telephone interview.

Malinowski, an outspoken critic of Bahrain as the Washington director of Human Rights Watch until his nomination as assistant secretary last year, was accused of having “intervened flagrantly in Bahrain’s internal affairs and held meetings with a particular party to the detriment of other interlocutors, thus discriminating between one people, contravening diplomatic norms, and flouting normal interstate relations.”

The charge was apparently related to his attendance without the presence of a Foreign Ministry official at a Sunday night Ramadan gathering hosted by al-Wefaq, according to Simon Henderson, a Gulf expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

While the declaration said Malinowski should leave the country “immediately”, State Department spokesperson Jan Psaki told reporters Monday afternoon that he “remains on the ground” in Bahrain and that U.S. officials were in “close touch” with their counterparts in Manama.

Some seven hours later, she issued a stronger written statement noting that Malinowski’s visit to the kingdom “had been coordinated far in advance and warmly welcomed and encouraged by the government of Bahrain, which is well-aware that U.S. government officials routinely meet with all officially-recognized political societies.”

As noted by Henderson, “Being PNG’ed is rare and typically seems to occur when an intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover is discovered by the host government. For it to happen between allies – and to be publicly revealed – is quite unusual.”

Rarer still is the PNG’ing of a senior official who is not stationed in the host country, according to administration sources who noted that Malinowski’s immediate predecessor as assistant secretary, former HRF director Michael Posner, had visited Bahrain half a dozen times without incident despite well-publicised meetings with opposition and civil-society leaders.

Home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, Bahrain occupies a strategic position in the Gulf that the Pentagon. Tied to Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province by a causeway, it faces Iran across the Gulf.

Like the other Gulf monarchies, Bahrain’s royal family, the al-Khalifas, are Sunni. But, unlike other members of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), they rule over a majority Shia population which has long pressed for democratic reform.

During the so-called “Arab Spring” of early 2011, popular pressure for reform featured major demonstrations by opposition and civil-society groups, both Shia and Sunni.

These protests, however, were met with a crackdown by the regime – reinforced by troops and police from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — in which several dozen people were killed, several thousand more arrested, hundreds tortured by security forces and in many cases forced to sign confessions, among other abuses, according to an exhaustive report released in November, 2011, by an independent international commission headed by an Egyptian-American jurist, Cherif Bassiouni.

While King Hamad pledged to implement reforms recommended by the commission, virtually no progress has been made to date, according to independent human-rights groups who have noted that, if anything, sectarian tensions have only become worse, often flaring into violence and street battles between Shia youths and security forces.

While Washington, including President Barack Obama himself, has admonished Manama about its human-rights record, called for full implementation of the Bassiouni recommendations, and encouraged reconciliation, it has taken no concrete actions against the government beyond suspending delivery of those parts of a 53-million-dollar arms deal that could be used against peaceful demonstrators.

Preoccupied by more pressing crises elsewhere in the region, notably Syria, Egypt, Libya, and now Iraq, the administration has appeared to give Bahrain a lower priority, although the charges against Marzouq came a day after Vice President Joseph Biden spoke by phone with King Hamad and assured him of “America’s enduring and overlapping interests in Bahrain’s security, stability, and reform.”

Malinowski’s visit was a follow-up to Posner’s periodic visits to demonstrate Washington’s continuing concerns.

“The Bahraini government’s decision to expel Mr. Malinowski for meeting with Al-Wefaq mainstream Shia opposition party belies the government’s recent public relations claims that it was encouraging the opposition to participate in the upcoming elections,” according to Emile Nakhleh, an expert on Bahrain and a former senior regional analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who was himself threatened with expulsion by the Bahraini government when he was a Fulbright Scholar there in 1972.

“Declaring Mr. Malinowski persona non grata should be viewed as part and parcel of Al Khalifa’s incendiary policy of continued massive human rights violations against the Shia majority and the stoking of sectarianism.”

Henderson also warned that Malinowski’s expulsion could derail plans to hold elections in Bahrain this fall, as well as other confidence-building measures “intended to encourage al-Wefaq’s participation.”

“If so, that could please some factions in Bahrain, including the minority Sunnis who regard their Shiite countrymen with suspicion.” The expulsion, he said, “represents a hugely convenient nadir in bilateral relations, which both countries will need to rebuild quickly before the negative consequences spread.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

 

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