Inter Press Service » North America http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 01 Sep 2015 03:53:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Faith Leaders Call for Debt Relief to Puerto Ricohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/faith-leaders-call-for-debt-relief-to-puerto-rico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=faith-leaders-call-for-debt-relief-to-puerto-rico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/faith-leaders-call-for-debt-relief-to-puerto-rico/#comments Mon, 31 Aug 2015 17:16:09 +0000 S. Chandra http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142199 By S. Chandra
WASHINGTON, Aug 31 2015 (IPS)

Puerto Rico’s religious leaders have called for debt relief of the Caribbean U.S. territory in the face of the 72 billion dollar liability that represents 20,000 dollars of debt for every man, woman and child.

In a statement issued Aug. 31, the clergy called on the U.S. Federal Reserve to intervene if Congress fails to pass bankruptcy protection to the financially-strapped island.

“This debt crisis threatens to push more of our people into poverty and put people out of work,” said San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves, leader of Puerto Rico’s mostly Catholic population.

“The religious community stands with vulnerable people and we call for the crisis to be resolved in a way that protects the poor and grows our economy,” he added.

At a press conference in San Juan, leaders of the major religious groups laid out six principles to resolve the crisis.

“Puerto Rico’s religious leaders are fighting for the lives of their people,” stated Eric LeCompte, executive director of the faith-based development coalition Jubilee USA Network.

Jubilee USA Network is an alliance of more than 75 U.S. organisations and 400 faith communities working with 50 Jubilee global partners. Jubilee’s mission is to build an economy that serves, protects and promotes the participation of the most vulnerable.

LeCompte visited Puerto Rico in mid-August to advise religious and political leaders on solutions to the crisis.  “We need to get Puerto Rico’s debt back to sustainable levels and ensure that the island has a path for economic growth,” he said

Some of the hedge funds, arguing for cuts in Puerto Rico’s economic growth, were or are currently involved in debt disputes in Greece, Argentina and Detroit, Michigan.

Two recent reports, one commissioned by a group of hedge funds which purchased the island’s distressed debt and the other authorised by Puerto Rico’s own government, suggest new austerity plans to pay off portions of the debt.

The reports note a range of “fiscal adjustments”, including reducing the minimum wage, education resources and healthcare costs. One of the principles promoted by the coalition of religious leaders is that any resolution to the financial crisis prevents further austerity plans.

The religious leaders raised concern over predatory hedge fund activity in their statement. Beyond the Catholic Church, other religious groups signing the statement include Methodists, Lutherans, Evangelicals, Pentecostals and the Disciples.

“As religious leaders, we see how desperate the situation is for Puerto Rico’s people,” said Reverend Heriberto Martínez Rivera, secretary-general of Puerto Rico’s Biblical Society and the leader of the religious coalition confronting the debt crisis.

“Too many of our people are already suffering from austerity policies and many brothers and sisters have left for the United States hungry for work and a better quality of life,” he added.

Beyond calling for debt relief and criticising austerity policies, the religious leaders’ statement asserts the need for greater Puerto Rican budget transparency and participation in future debt negotiations by people negatively affected by the crisis.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Opinion: How Will Wall Street Greet the Pope?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-how-will-wall-street-greet-the-pope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-will-wall-street-greet-the-pope http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-how-will-wall-street-greet-the-pope/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 09:14:17 +0000 Hazel Henderson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142152

Hazel Henderson, author of 'Mapping the Global Transition to the Solar Age' and other books, is President of Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil), Certified B Corporation

By Hazel Henderson
ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Millions in the New York City area are excited about Pope Francis’ visit on Sep. 25 to address the U.N. General Assembly as worldwide consensus grows on the need to shift global investments from fossil fuels to clean, efficient, renewable energy in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) scheduled to replace the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

Private investments worldwide in the clean energy transition now total 6.22 trillion dollars while successful U.S. students’ divestment networks have forced over 30 college endowments to divest.  Over 200 institutions have divested worldwide, including the U.S. cities of Minneapolis and Seattle, Oxford in the United Kingdom and Dunedin in New Zealand.

Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson

The Episcopal Church and the Church of England, in a faith-based consortium, are calling on Pope Francis to urge divestment for all religious and civic groups.  Islamic Climate Change Symposium leaders cited the Quran earlier this month in calling 1.6 billion Muslims to act in phasing out fossil fuels by 2050.

Backlash from traditional Wall Streeters has joined some U.S. Catholic organisations with millions still invested in fossil energy, fracking and oil sands.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has guidelines against investing in abortion, contraception, pornography, tobacco and war but is silent on energy stocks.

Reuters reports that Catholic dioceses in Boston, Baltimore, Toledo and much of Minnesota in the United States have millions of dollars in oil and gas stocks, making up between 5-10 percent of their holdings.  It has been reported that Chicago’s Archbishop Blasé Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis, will re-examine over 100 million dollars in fossil fuel investments.

Wall Street is also re-examining its positions on fossil fuels.  A survey of asset managers in Institutional Investor, July 2015, found that 77 percent expected the carbon-divestiture movement to continue and gain momentum.  Yet, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson has claimed that the models on climate change “aren’t that good” and has no plans to invest in renewable energy.

Recently, many large companies have been calling for and budgeting for carbon pricing – favoured by most economists.  Britain’s BG Group, BP, Italy’s ENI, Shell, Norway’s Statoil and France’s Total sent an open letter to world governments and the United Nations in June asking them to accelerate carbon pricing schemes.The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has guidelines against investing in abortion, contraception, pornography, tobacco and war but is silent on energy stocks

The ethical investing movement now accounts for one-sixth of all holdings on Wall Street and the U.N. Principles of Responsible Investing counts signatory institutions with 59 trillion dollars in assets under management.

Hybrid approaches include venture philanthropy and “impact” investing, while a recent CFA Institute survey found almost three quarters of investment professionals use environmental, social and governance information in their investment decisions.

Against this backdrop, Timothy Smith, pioneer founder of the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and now Senior Vice-President of Walden Asset Management, says that the “visit of the Pope in the wake of his prophetic Encyclical on climate is a clarion call – to ramp up our efforts to combat climate change with concrete actions,” adding that “it’s not the Pope’s job to present a specific game plan for Americans.  That is our job.”

Through ICCR, religious investors have worked for two decades on these issues.  Firms like Walden, Ceres and others have joined up to combat climate change, promoting efficiency and renewable resources.  All this new activity within the climate debate provides the greatest challenge yet to business-as-usual capitalism.

Many financiers in the global casino still see themselves as “masters of the universe” because they control capital flows, most investments, pension funds, influence monetary policies, capture politicians and regulators, while funding friendly academics and think tanks.

The recent jitters of stock markets have again revealed their fragility and the increasing turbulence and volatility caused by computerized algorithms accounting for over half of all activity.  High-frequency trading (HFT), “flash crashes”, are continuing with little regulation.  Foundations are crumbling from these many new challenges as small investors flee. 

Crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, local and cryptocurrencies, credit unions and cooperative enterprises are flowering along with hybrid start-ups in the “shareconomy” – AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, Task Rabbit and the growth of farmers markets, swap sites for tools, clothes and second-hand exchanges.

Many reformers of capitalism try to change its culture, of short term gain and speculative trading.  The U.N. Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System will release its report to the General Assembly on Sep. 25, with global research on current practices and potential reforms.

A promising new effort to mobilise U.S. public opinion is JUSTCapital, founded by luminaries Deepak Chopra, Arianna Huffington and hedge fund philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones.  CEO Martin Whittaker says: “We are addressing some of the core questions affecting capitalism and corporations in the 21st century.  We are applying policy, research and surveys to define ‘just business behaviour’ in the eye of the public, using this definition to evaluate and rank the performance of the largest publicly traded American companies.”

While such caring financiers are quietly exploring reforms, the biggest threat is the fragility of global market structures from automation, algorithms, HFT and artificial intelligence which financiers still believe they can control.

Yet these same computers can now run markets more efficiently than humans.  Matching and trading buy and sell orders in transparent computerised black boxes makes human traders redundant, as well as reducing insider trading, speculating, front-running, naked short-selling, fixing interest rates and today’s widespread greed and corruption.

Capitalism’s greatest challenge is its reliance on rollercoaster national money systems and currencies.  Central bankers and governments’ tools fail along with economic theories as social movements are now aware of money-printing and the politics of money creation and credit-allocation, revealed in all its favouritism and inequalities.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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U.S. Provides Cover for Use of Banned Weapons in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-provides-cover-for-use-of-banned-weapons-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-provides-cover-for-use-of-banned-weapons-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-provides-cover-for-use-of-banned-weapons-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 21:20:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142089 Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

The United States is providing a thinly-veiled cover virtually legitimising the use of cluster bombs – banned by an international convention – by Saudi Arabia and its allies in their heavy fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Asked if cluster bombs are legitimate weapons of war, “if used appropriately”, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “If used appropriately, there are end-use regulations regarding the use of them. But yes, when used appropriately and according (to) those end-use rules, it’s permissible.”“These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.” -- Ole Solvang of HRW

But Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch told IPS the State Department official makes reference to “end use regulations.”

“Any recipient of U.S. cluster munitions has to agree not to use them in populated areas.  Saudi Arabia may be violating that requirement.  State and Defence Department officials are looking into that,” he said.

The Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, which has been uninterruptedly bombing rebel-controlled Yemen, includes Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

The 80 non-signatories to the convention include all 10 countries, plus Yemen. The United States, which is providing intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition, is also a non-signatory.

Asked whether it would be alarming or disconcerting if the coalition, is in fact, using American-supplied cluster bombs, Kirby told reporters early this week: “I would just tell you that we remain in close contact, regular contact with the Saudi Government on a wide range of issues in Yemen.

“We’ve urged all sides in the conflict – you’ve heard me say this before – including the Saudis, to take proactive measures to minimize harm to civilians. We have discussed reports of the alleged use of cluster munitions with the Saudis,” he added.

Goose said a U.S. Defence Department official has already said the U.S. is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions, so there is no real need for the State Department to confirm or deny.

“Cluster munitions should not be used by anyone, anywhere, at any time due to the foreseeable harm to civilians,” Goose added.

He also said the States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions are meeting for the first Five Year Review Conference of the convention next month and are expected to condemn Saudi use and call for a halt.

Cluster bombs have also been used in Syria, South Sudan, Ukraine and by a non-state actor,

the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), among others.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was adopted in 2008, entered into force in 2010. A total of 117 states have joined the Convention, with 93 States parties who have signed and ratified the treaty.

The convention, which bans cluster munitions, requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants, and assistance to victims.

Human Rights Watch, a founding member of the international Cluster Munition Coalition, the civil society campaign behind the Convention on Cluster Munitions and publisher of Cluster Munition Monitor 2014, said last May that banned cluster munitions have wounded civilians, including a child, in attacks in Houthi-controlled territory in northern Yemen.

HRW is preparing another report on new use of cluster munitions, scheduled to be released next week.

On Sep. 3, the Cluster Munition Monitor 2015, which provides a global overview of states’ adherence to the ban convention, will be released in Geneva.

An HRW team, in a report released after a visit to the Saada governorate in northern Yemen, said the Saudi-led coalition and other warring parties in Yemen “need to recognise that using banned cluster munitions is very likely to harm civilians.”

Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at HRW, said, “These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.”

In one attack, which wounded three people, at least two of them most likely civilians, the cluster munitions were air-dropped, pointing to the Saudi-led coalition as responsible because it is the only party using aircraft.

In a second attack, which wounded four civilians, including a child, HRW said it was not able to conclusively determine responsibility because the cluster munitions were ground-fired, but the attack was on an area that has been under attack by the Saudi-led coalition.

In these and other documented cluster munition attacks, HRW has identified the use of three types of cluster munitions in Yemen and called upon the United States to denounce their use.

HRW also said the discovery of cluster munitions in Houthi-controlled territory that had been attacked by coalition aircraft on previous occasions and the location within range of Saudi artillery suggest that Saudi forces fired the cluster munitions, but further investigation is needed to conclusively determine responsibility.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Kerry Going Back Homehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-kerry-going-back-home/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-kerry-going-back-home http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-kerry-going-back-home/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 11:54:13 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141969

In this column, Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, writes that when he visits Havana on Friday Aug. 14 within the framework of the resumption of US-Cuba relations, Secretary of State John Kerry will feel at home because, despite more than half a century of troubled relations, Cuba is the Latin American country which is most naturally "American-Yankee".

By Joaquín Roy
BARCELONA, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

Recovering from a broken femur following a bicycle accident suffered in Switzerland, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry – former senator and former presidential candidate – is anxious to accelerate his convalescence and will visit Cuba on Friday Aug. 14, where he will hoist the Stars and Stripes flag over the emblematic U.S. embassy building in Havana.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

But Kerry will not going to a strange place: in reality, he will be going back home. As he catches a glimpse of the Capitol building in the Cuban capital, he will certainly think that it looks familiar – no wonder, it is a copy of the one on Capitol Hill back in Washington.

More than Mexico (from which the United States snatched half of its territory) and Puerto Rico (the peak of the 1898 Spanish-American War, together with the Philippines), Cuba is the land in Latin America which is the most naturally “American-Yankee”. Nothing is more palpable confirmation of this than to see the appalling ease with which anyone who has recently arrived in Cuba from Miami adapts to the local environment.

At this point, one must ask why it has taken so long to “normalise” what should have been a close relationship between the empire and a modest island about 160 kilometres from Key West.

“More was lost in Cuba” has been the cry of several generations of Spaniards as they considered a family or business misfortune. What did the United States lose in Cuba through having maintained that lengthy embargo in place, whose goal has been recognised as a failure?

More than substantial property, most of which actually belonged to Spaniards or their immediate descendants, Washington lost the arrogance of its hegemonic superiority after World War II.

The conversion of Cuba into a Marxist-Leninist state, allied with the Soviet Union – the arch-enemy of the United States – and the total destruction of the capitalist system, plus the exile of a stratum of a remarkable society, was a painful slap on the face of such magnitude that no U.S. president was willing to forgive and go down in history for being the first who had bowed before Castro.“The United States is what Latin America wanted to be and could not be. Hence, Castro insisted on converting the country [Cuba] into an enemy, a task in which he was helped by the unfortunate policies of Washington”

This explains the inertia of maintaining the embargo, an error that bit by bit has been weakened in the economic field. But any explanation must also take into account the primary role played by Fidel Castro, lord and master of the situation.

His leadership will be remembered in history, although probably without absolving him (as he promised when he was condemned in 1956 after his first failed rebellion). He has had no match since Simon Bolívar.  His success is credited to his extreme understanding of the meaning of the United States in the historical evolution of Latin America and its innate identity. Unlike the erroneous vision of other leaders, Castro understood that United States was an intrinsic part of the Latin American personality, and Cuba in particular.

The United States is what Latin America wanted to be and could not be. Hence, Castro insisted on converting the country into an enemy, a task in which he was helped by the unfortunate policies of Washington. Nevertheless, he retained the notion that in reality Cubans do not hate the United States, but only despise the temporary occupants of the White House and the detested U.S. security institutions.

Castro knew perfectly well that while Cuba was by defect becoming a nation after gaining independence mortgaged by the Platt Amendment (another of Washington’s errors), it was also becoming inexorably “Americanised”.

The new empire reinforced this error through its support for or tolerance of dictators and corrupt Cuban rulers of the 1930s and 1940s, details that Castro exploited in a ruthless Machiavellian fashion to attempt to demonstrate the alien nature of the United States.

That is why, faced with maintenance of the embargo, Castro responded with actions that provoked the negative reaction of Washington.

When there were phases of relative calm (as happened under the Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton administrations) Castro sent troops to Africa, or shut down planes of Brothers to the Rescue (a Miami-based activist organization formed by Cuban exiles), generating adoption of the Helms-Burton Act which codified the embargo. He also got the European Union to adopt a Common Position, a sort of weak “embargo” to “keep up with the Joneses”.

Why does this scaffolding now appear to be coming down – because the justifications of the past do not have the arguments that are necessary for pragmatism today. The United States needs a secure and steady environment it its backyard. Barack Obama has more important issues to deal with in the rest of the world. Cuba has become a nuisance.

The other reason is because Raúl Castro is not like his brother and is clutching at the straw of the United States “returning home”.

But the change will not be easy. The political conditions of normalisation inserted in the Helms-Burton Act are formidable (disappearance of the Castro brothers or many high officials named by them, establishment of political parties, freedom of expression, elimination of Radio/TV Martí, etc.).

Erosion by slow progress (as in the economic field) will not be sufficient. It will be necessary for Congress to repeal the legislation en bloc. This time Raul is not going to commit a fatal error. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Obama Takes Lead on Climate Change Ahead of U.N. Talks in Parishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/obama-takes-lead-on-climate-change-ahead-of-u-n-talks-in-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-takes-lead-on-climate-change-ahead-of-u-n-talks-in-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/obama-takes-lead-on-climate-change-ahead-of-u-n-talks-in-paris/#comments Fri, 07 Aug 2015 18:38:32 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141914 The Clean Power Plan could prove to be the green legacy of Obama’s presidency. Credit: Bigstock

The Clean Power Plan could prove to be the green legacy of Obama’s presidency. Credit: Bigstock

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 7 2015 (IPS)

This week, U.S. President Barack Obama formally unveiled the details of his Clean Power Plan (CPP), a comprehensive carbon-cutting strategy he described as “the biggest and most important step…ever taken to combat climate change” in a prior video address posted on Facebook.

As set down in the final rule from Aug. 3 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the CPP requires power plant owners to reduce their CO2 emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Between 2005 and 2013, carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by 15 percent, meaning the U.S. is about halfway to the target."These polluters are resorting to the same dirty and desperate playbook of doomsday predictions they have used since President Nixon first signed the Clean Air Act in 1970." -- Sara Chieffo

States are allowed to create their own plans on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units (EGUs). Initial versions of these plans will have to be submitted by 2016, final versions by 2018.

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, told journalists at a U.N. press conference in New York: “The Plan is an example of the visionary leadership necessary to reduce emissions and to tackle climate change.”

At a meeting between President Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Oval Office on Tuesday, the U.N. chief commended Obama’s leadership role in addressing climate change: “I would like to congratulate you and highly commend your visionary and forward leadership announcement of yesterday on a Clean Power Plan. […] The U.S. can and will be able to change the world in addressing [the] climate phenomenon.”

The U.S. is the world’s biggest CO2 emitter after China. Yet, the praise given to Obama for his efforts in cutting CO2 emissions seems to suggest a shift in the perception of the U.S. as one of the largest climate offenders to a model and leader in combating climate change.

The announcement of the plan follows a series of recent diplomatic achievements by the U.S. government such as the Iranian nuclear deal and the normalisation of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Many observers attribute these significant moves by the U.S. president shortly ahead of the end of his presidency to his endeavors in building a legacy on the foreign policy front.

The CPP could prove to be the green legacy of Obama’s presidency. Sara Chieffo, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), told IPS: “This historic plan puts in place the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants – the nation’s single largest source of the pollution fueling climate change.

“When taken together with other major advancements by the Obama Administration, like increasing fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and investments in renewable energy, the Clean Power Plan represents a significant reduction in carbon pollution by 2030, as well as a boon to public health.

“By taking these steps the Obama Administration is demonstrating true leadership in reducing carbon pollution, strengthening the growing movement for global action.”

However, as for the Iran nuclear deal and the agreement with Cuba, Obama’s success in implementing the CPP and the legacy built upon it will be largely dependent on Congress and the courts.

Following widespread criticism, the CPP underwent various modifications until the final rule was published on Monday. Compared to former versions, the final rule is now focusing much more on fossil fuel-fired power plants as CO2 emitters and less on states achieving their targets, as explained by Jody Freeman in an article for Politico.

“[R]evisions to the final rule will make it harder for opponents to argue it intrudes on state sovereignty. This has been one of the highest-profile claims against the draft plan, which asked states to meet individual, state-level emissions targets. But the new structure of the final version lets states meet their obligation simply by applying the EPA’s uniform national rates for coal and gas units to the power plants in their jurisdiction—the most straightforward compliance plan imaginable.”

Prior to the announcement of the Clean Power Plan, legal discussions have centered on another EPA regulation already in place since 2011, the mercury and air toxic standards (MATS) meant to limit hazardous air pollutant emissions from fuel-fired power plants.

In a June 29 ruling on Michigan vs. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the EPA regulation with a 5-4 majority, stating the EPA did not properly consider the costs of the regulation as required by the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the D.C. Circuit for further consultations and proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion.

The 2011 initiative by EPA to regulate emissions of toxic air pollutants has been challenged by industry groups and about 20 states. Although the Supreme Court decision can be seen as a major setback for the EPA and its environmental initiative, it also facilitates the Clean Power Plan by preventing the existence of a double-regulation, “[o]ne of the challengers’ primary legal arguments against the Plan”, as pointed out by Brian Potts and Abigail Barnes in a recent Forbes article.

“Ironically, this decision could pave the way for another landmark (and nearly just as expensive) EPA regulation, the Clean Power Plan—but only if the agency lets its beloved mercury rule die on the vine.”

Indeed, there is optimism that the Clean Power Plan in its final version will be able to stand firm in the face of the lawsuits expected to be brought against it.

Sara Chieffo told IPS, “With a coalition of public health officials, faith leaders, businesses, and the millions of concerned citizens from across the country calling for climate action, the only ones challenging the Clean Power Plan are big polluters and their allies in Congress and state legislatures.

“These polluters are resorting to the same dirty and desperate playbook of doomsday predictions they have used since President Nixon first signed the Clean Air Act in 1970. But time and again, history has proven that cleaning up our air is good for our health and our economy.

“We are confident that elected officials across the country are going to side with their constituents’ overwhelming support for climate action, instead of polluters who are putting their profits ahead of our health,” she added.

The announcement of Obama’s Clean Power Plan comes a few months ahead of the much anticipated Climate Conference (COP21) in Paris. As stated by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesperson of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, the U.S. government’s initiative will play a vital role in turning the Conference in Paris into a success.

“President Obama’s leadership by example is essential for bringing other key countries on board and securing a universal, durable and meaningful agreement in Paris in December,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Half a Million U.S. Women and Girls at Risk of Genital Cuttinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/half-a-million-u-s-women-and-girls-at-risk-of-genital-cutting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=half-a-million-u-s-women-and-girls-at-risk-of-genital-cutting http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/half-a-million-u-s-women-and-girls-at-risk-of-genital-cutting/#comments Wed, 05 Aug 2015 19:41:34 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141879 FGM is a taboo topic in many cultures. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 5 2015 (IPS)

Jaha Dukureh knows firsthand the barbaric effects of undergoing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Now a resident of the United States, she was mutilated as a baby in the Gambia in West Africa. Her sister bled to death after enduring the same procedure.

What was done to Dakureh is called “infibulation,” where the clitoris and the labia are removed and the vagina is sealed to insure a girl’s virginity until marriage."Policy makers, doctors, police, teachers and community leaders all have a role in making sure that girls can receive the help they need and deserve. There is no excuse for this type of abuse." -- Paula Kweskin

Now a passionate advocate against FGM/C, Dakureh issued a call to arms on the eve of President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Africa, urging him to “play a historic role in the fight to eliminate FGM.”

“While the origins of FGM are ancient and predate organised religion, there is one thing we know for sure: its purpose is to control female sexuality and lessen a woman’s humanity,” she wrote in a powerful commentary for the Guardian.

In the last 15 years, the number of women and girls at risk of FGM/C in the United States has more than doubled, advocacy groups warn, calling for stronger measures to prevent this human rights violation.

According to data from the Population Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C. research group, a staggering 506,795 girls and women in the United States have undergone or are at risk of undergoing FGM/C.

“It’s important this subject is no longer taboo,” Paula Kweskin, a human rights attorney who produced a film called Honor Diaries that deals with the problem of FGM, told IPS. “It needs to be discussed at every level so that it can be addressed and eradicated. When it’s swept under the carpet, women and girls are revictimized by the silence and inaction.”

“Policy makers, doctors, police, teachers and community leaders all have a role in making sure that girls can receive the help they need and deserve. There is no excuse for this type of abuse.”

The top 10 metropolitan areas where girls and women are at highest risk of female genital mutilation include New York, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The PRB notes that FGM/C, which entails partial or total removal of the external genitals of girls and women for religious, cultural, or other nonmedical reasons, has devastating immediate and long-term health and social effects, especially related to childbirth.

Most girls at risk are in found in sub-Saharan Africa. In Djibouti, Guinea, and Somalia, for example, nine in 10 girls ages 15 to 19 have been subjected to FGM/C. But the practice is not limited to developing countries.

An estimated 137,000 women and girls in Britain have undergone the procedure, according to a report released in July by City University London and Equality Now.

In the United States, the PRB says, efforts to stop families from sending their daughters abroad to be cut — so-called “vacation cutting” — spurred the passage of a law in 2013 making it illegal to knowingly transport a girl out of the United States for the purpose of cutting.

“We urge the U.S. to provide a public update on its plans to ensure all efforts to end FGM are sustainable and supported with funding, and support and encourage state efforts to end FGM at local levels,” Shelby Quast, policy director at Equality Now, said last month.

She added that having specific laws in each state would prompt state schools, hospitals and clinics as well as local law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to step up prevention efforts and act swiftly in FGM cases.

“People in [the U.S.] don’t want to think it happens here. But their daughters might be sitting next to a best friend who can be subjected to a violent, cultural procedure,” she told NPR. “If it were cutting the nose or the ear off — something everyone could see — there’d be a different response. We can’t continue to hide this away.”

The U.S. Congress had already passed a law in 1996 making it illegal to perform FGM/C and 23 states have laws against the practice, which has grown in part because of increased immigration from countries where FGM/C is prevalent, especially in North and sub-Saharan Africa.

Between 2000 and 2013, the PRB says, the foreign-born population from Africa more than doubled, from 881,000 to 1.8 million. Just three sending countries—Egypt, Ethiopia, and Somalia—accounted for 55 percent of all U.S. women and girls at risk in 2013.

“This is a barbaric and completely unnecessary practice that causes devastating physical and psychological damage for countless girls and women in the United States and countries across the globe,” said Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow.

Raheel, a human rights activist, is among several Muslim women featured in Honor Diaries, a documentary breaking the silence on FGM and other abuse against women and girls in honour-based communities.

Edited by Thalif Deen

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Even the Rich Have Not Harnessed Full Potential of Digital Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/even-the-rich-have-not-harnessed-full-potential-of-digital-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=even-the-rich-have-not-harnessed-full-potential-of-digital-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/even-the-rich-have-not-harnessed-full-potential-of-digital-economy/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 23:04:51 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141808 The ICT sector employed more than 14 million people in OECD countries in 2013, almost 3 percent of jobs in the 34-country bloc. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

The ICT sector employed more than 14 million people in OECD countries in 2013, almost 3 percent of jobs in the 34-country bloc. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Jaya Ramachandran
PARIS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

The digital economy permeates countless aspects of the world economy, impacting sectors as varied as banking, retail, energy, transportation, education, publishing, media or health. But the full potential of the digital economy has yet to be realised even in the world’s most advanced and emerging countries, says a new report.

On the one hand, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are transforming the ways social interactions and personal relationships are conducted, with fixed, mobile and broadcast networks converging, and devices and objects increasingly connected to form the Internet of things.

On the other hand, none of the 34 countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has a national strategy on protecting online privacy or funding research in this area, which tends to be viewed as a matter for law enforcement authorities to handle, says the report.

The OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2015, which covers areas from broadband penetration and industry consolidation to network neutrality and cloud computing in the OECD and its partner countries like Brazil, Colombia and Egypt, also stresses the need to do more to offer information and communication technology (ICT) skills training to help people transition to new types of digital jobs.

In a 2014 OECD survey, 26 out of 29 countries considered building broadband infrastructure as their top priority and 19 of 28 countries put digital privacy and security second and third, observes the report.

Asked about the future, countries placed skills development as their top objective, followed by public service improvements and digital content creation.

Other surveys cited in the report suggest that two-thirds of people are more concerned about their online privacy than a year ago and only a third believe private information on the Internet is secure. More than half fear monitoring by government agencies, adds the report.

Other important findings in the Digital Economy Outlook are:

Of 34 countries surveyed, 27 have a national digital strategy. Many were established or updated in 2013 or 2014. Most focus on telecoms infrastructure, broadband capacity and speed. Few cover international issues such as internet governance.

Seven of the OECD’s 34 member countries count more than one mobile broadband subscription per person. Around three-quarters of smartphone use in OECD countries occurs on private Wi-Fi access via fixed networks.

All OECD countries have at least three mobile operators and most have four. Prices for mobile services fell markedly between 2012 and 2014 with the biggest declines in Italy, New Zealand and Turkey. Prices rose in Austria and Greece, however.

The ICT sector employed more than 14 million people in OECD countries in 2013, almost 3 percent of jobs in the 34-country bloc. ICT employment ranges from above 4 percent of total employment in Ireland and Korea to below 2 percent in Greece, Portugal and Mexico.

ICT venture capital is on the rise again and is now back at its highest level in the U.S. since the dot-com bubble.

China is the leading gross exporter of ICT goods and services, but the U.S. is the top exporter when trade is calculated in value-added terms, due in part to the high presence of U.S. ICT services embodied in final products. Embodied ICT services also contributed to higher shares for India and the UK in value-added terms.

Korea is the most specialised of OECD and partner countries in computer, electronic and optical products; Luxembourg is strongest in telecoms; while Ireland, Sweden and the UK are most specialised in IT and other information services.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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Workplace Diversity Still a Pipe Dream in Most U.S. Newsroomshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/workplace-diversity-still-a-pipe-dream-in-most-u-s-newsrooms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=workplace-diversity-still-a-pipe-dream-in-most-u-s-newsrooms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/workplace-diversity-still-a-pipe-dream-in-most-u-s-newsrooms/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 20:32:50 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141787 Scenes from the Apollo 11 television restoration press conference held at the Newseum in Washington, DC on July 16, 2009. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/cc by 2.0

Scenes from the Apollo 11 television restoration press conference held at the Newseum in Washington, DC on July 16, 2009. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/cc by 2.0

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2015 (IPS)

Although the United States as a whole is becoming more ethnically diverse, newsrooms remain largely dominated by white, male reporters, according to a recent investigation by The Atlantic magazine.

It found that just 22.4 percent of television journalists, 13 percent of radio journalists, and 13.34 percent of journalists at daily newspapers came from minority groups in 2014.

Another new census, by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), found just 12.76 percent minority journalists at U.S. daily newspapers in 2014.

While the percentage of minority groups in the U.S. has been steadily increasing, reaching a recent total of 37.4 percent of the U.S. population, the number of minority journalists, by contrast, has stayed at a constant level for years.

This is particularly true for the share of minority employment at newspapers, which has been staggeringly low – between 11 and 14 percent for more than two decades, as illustrated in a graphic by the Pew Research Center and ASNE.

Many say it is a major problem for a field that strives to represent and inform a diverse public, and worrisome for a medium that has the power to shape and influence the views and opinions of mass audiences.

“Journalism must deliver insight from different perspectives on various topics and media must reflect the public they serve. The risk is that by limiting media access to ethnic minorities, the public gets a wrong perception of reality and the place ethnic minorities have in society,” Pamela Morinière, Communications and Authors’ Rights Officer at the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), told IPS.

Under-representation of minority journalists has negative effects on the quality of reporting.

Speaking to IPS, Alfredo Carbajal, managing editor of Al Dia (The Dallas Morning News) and organiser for the ASNE Minority Leadership Institute, said, “The consequence [of ethnic minority groups’ under-representation] is that news coverage lacks the perspectives, expertise and knowledge of these groups as well as their specific skills and experiences because of who they are.”

ASNE President Chris Peck added: “If newsrooms cannot stay in touch with the issues, the concerns, hopes and dreams of an increasingly diverse audience, those news organisations will lose their relevance and be replaced.”

Commenting on the underlying reasons, both Carbajal and Peck underscored the lack of opportunities for minority students compared to their white counterparts.

“Legacy journalism organisations have relied too long on an established pipeline for talent. It’s a pipeline dominated by white, mostly middle class and upper middle class connections – schools, existing journalism leaders, media companies. It’s something of a self-perpetuating cycle that has been slow to evolve,” Peck said.

This argument is echoed in a recent analysis by Ph.D. student Alex T. Williams published in the Columbia Journalism Review. Confronted with the claim that newspapers cannot hire more minority journalists due to the lack of university graduates, Williams took a closer look at graduate and employment statistics provided by Grady College’s Annual Graduate Surveys.

He found that minorities accounted for 21.4 percent of graduates in journalism or communication between 2004 and 2013 – a number that is “not high” but “still not as low as the number of minority journalists working in newsrooms today.”.

The more alarming trend, he says, is that only 49 percent of graduates from minority groups were able to find full-time jobs after their studies. Numbers of white graduates finding employment, by contrast, amounted to 66 percent. This means the under-representation of ethnic minorities in journalism must be traced back to recruitment rather than to graduation numbers, he concluded.

A main reason why minority graduates have difficulty finding jobs, according to Williams, is that most newsrooms look for specific experiences such as unpaid internships that many minority students cannot afford. Also, minority students are more likely to attend less well-appointed colleges that might not have the resources to keep a campus newspaper or offer special networking opportunities.

Another reason is linked to newspapers’ financial constraints. Peck told IPS: “There is a challenge within news organisations to keep a diverse workforce at a time when the traditional media are economically challenged, even as new industries are actively looking to hire away talent that represents the changing American demographic.”

Further, union contracts favour unequal employment, according to Doris Truong, a Washington Post editor and acting president of Unity, who was quoted in 2013 article in The Atlantic.

“One piece of this puzzle is layoff policies and union contracts that often reward seniority and push the most recent hires to leave first. Many journalists of color have the least protected jobs because they’re the least senior employees.”

Different ideas and initiatives have been put forth to increase the representation of minority journalists.

Amongst the ideas expressed by Pamela Morinière are the inclusion of diversity reporting in student curricula, dialogues in newsrooms on the representation of minority groups, making job offers available widely and adopting equal opportunity and non-discrimination policies.

Chris Peck emphasises the importance of “home-grown talent”: “Identifying local students who have an interest in journalism and that have a connection to a specific locale will be a critical factor in the effort to diversify newsrooms. It’s a longer term effort to cultivate local talent. But it can pay off.”

“Second, I think it is important to tap social media to explain why journalism is still a dynamic field and invite digital natives to become part of it,” he said.

Civil society organisations such as UNITY Journalists for Diversity, a strategic alliance of several minority journalist associations, aim at increasing the representation of minority groups in journalism and promoting fair and complete coverage about diversity, ethnicity and gender issues.

The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) is part of the alliance. It seeks to advance specifically Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) journalists. Its president, Paul Cheung, told IPS: “AAJA believes developing a strong pipeline of talents as well as diverse sources are key to increase representation.”

“2015 will mark some significant milestones in AAJA’s history. AAJA will be celebrating 15 years of training multi-cultural high school students through JCamp, 20th anniversary of […] our Executive Leadership programmes and 25 years of inspiring college students to enter the field of journalism through VOICES.”

Ethnic minority journalists are not the only under-represented group at news outlets in the U.S. and around the world. The Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media states that women represent only a third of the journalism workforce in the 522 companies in nearly 60 countries surveyed for the study. Seventy-three percent of the top management jobs are held by men, while only 27 percent are occupied by women.

“When it comes to women’s portrayal in the news, the situation is even worse,” Pamela Mornière told IPS.

“Women make up only 24 percent of people seen, heard or read about. They remain quite invisible, although they represent more than half of the world’s population. And when they make the news they make it too often in a stereotypical way. The impact of this can be devastating on the public’s perception of women’s place and role in society. Many women have made their way on the political and economic scene. Media must reflect that.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Obama Seeks August Deadline for End to South Sudan Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/obama-seeks-august-deadline-for-end-to-south-sudan-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-seeks-august-deadline-for-end-to-south-sudan-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/obama-seeks-august-deadline-for-end-to-south-sudan-war/#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 10:09:23 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141770 President Barack Obama greets embassy staff and their families during a meet and greet at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, July 25, 2015, before going to Addis Ababa. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama greets embassy staff and their families during a meet and greet at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, July 25, 2015, before going to Addis Ababa. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By a Global Information Network correspondent
ADDIS ABABA, Jul 28 2015 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a meeting with regional African leaders, threatened new sanctions for the warring factions in South Sudan if a peace deal is not be reached by Aug. 17.

“The possibilities of renewed conflict … is something that requires urgent attention from all of us,” Obama said. “We don’t have a lot of time to wait.”

Pres. Obama outlined the options at a meeting Monday in Addis Ababa with leaders of Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, the chair of the African Union and the foreign minister of Sudan. “Liberating” South Sudan, with support from the U.S., Britain and Norway, was supposed to be the high point of Obama’s Africa policy. Four years after independence, the nation is a humanitarian disaster.

In fighting showing no signs of letting up, thousands of people have been killed and more than 2.2 million displaced, since violence erupted in December 2013, according to the U.N. Human rights abuses and indiscriminate killings have been carried out by both sides – namely the South Sudanese government led by President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer.

At the session of leaders, Obama set an Aug. 17 deadline for a peace agreement signed by all combatants although no consensus was reached on Monday on what to do if the deadline comes and goes. Numerous sanctions were floated – an arms embargo and the freezing of assets and ability to travel – backed by the international community. Obama expressed his preference for sanctions over intervention, as proposed by one of the leaders.

Western diplomats have pushed countries in the region to withdraw support for the South Sudanese combatants in order to make peace. Uganda, for example, openly supports the South Sudan government. Sudan supports Machar’s rebels.

Those at the talks included Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour and the chair of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

In a press briefing, a senior administration official told reporters that “venal leaders” had squandered a huge opportunity which the international community had helped them win. “So we can’t undo this for them,” he said, referring to the crisis. “They’ve got to fix this (themselves).”

Fighting has been fiercest in the Upper Nile and Unity States, where the nation’s two major oil fields are found. With the onset of the rainy season, an already dire situation has grown worse.

“Tens of thousands of people are cut off from aid and medical care as fighting intensifies in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State,” Doctors Without Borders, the international medical humanitarian organization, said in a statement last week.

Meanwhile, rebel spokesman James Gatdet welcomed Obama’s comments, saying “peace is possible”. But a spokesman for South Sudan rejected the plan and accused the international community of “jeopardizing the chances of the people of South Sudan.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Obama Walks Fine Line in Kenya on LGBTI Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/obama-walks-fine-line-in-kenya-on-lgbti-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-walks-fine-line-in-kenya-on-lgbti-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/obama-walks-fine-line-in-kenya-on-lgbti-rights/#comments Sat, 25 Jul 2015 19:42:09 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141752 Presidents Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta wave to delegates at the Opening Plenary at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, in Nairobi, Kenya on July 25, 2015. Credit: U.S. Embassy Nairobi

Presidents Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta wave to delegates at the Opening Plenary at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, in Nairobi, Kenya on July 25, 2015. Credit: U.S. Embassy Nairobi

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 25 2015 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke in Nairobi at the end of a two-day visit Saturday, focusing on Kenya’s economy and the fight against terrorism, but also briefly touching on gay rights and discrimination.

“When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode, and bad things happen,” Obama said at a joint press conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta."You can't encourage change by staying silent." -- Charles Radcliffe

But LGBTI Kenyans are not in agreement about whether Obama’s presence will help or hurt their struggle, according to the Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Jessica Stern.

“The difference of views is a sign of the strength and diversity of the Kenyan LGBTI movement, but there’s no question that this is a potential minefield, and ultimately, those who stand to get hurt most are regular Kenyans,” she told IPS.

Some have argued that the U.S. president speaking out on LGBTQ human rights in Kenya was counterproductive in the past, and has made the people of Kenya, where same-sex relations are punishable by up to 14 years in prison, more homophobic and unsupportive of the LGBTQ community.

Anti-gay organisations like the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum claim that they gained more support due to President Obama’s comments in 2013, along with some American policies, likely because the protection of LGBTQ communities is widely viewed as an American value being imposed on African society.

After Obama’s comments Saturday, President Kenyatta stated that in Kenya, it is “very difficult to impose” gay rights because the culture is different from the United States, and the societies do not accept it – which makes it a “non-issue” to the government of Kenya.

“There’s been a deliberate attempt to portray homosexuality as a Western import, which it isn’t,” the U.N. adviser on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, Charles Radcliffe, told IPS. “The only Western imports in this context are the homophobic laws used to punish and silence gay people,” these laws mostly originating from 19th century British colonialism.

By speaking on LGBTQ human rights abuses, Obama is “imposing human values, not Western ones,” says Radcliffe. “It’s possible to respect tradition, while at the same time insisting that everyone — gay people included — deserve to be protected from prejudice, violence, and unfair punishment and discrimination.”

Radcliffe said he believes Obama and other leaders should speak out, as it will “open people’s eyes to the existence of gay Kenyans and the legitimacy of their claim to respect and recognition.”

Radcliffe advises prominent individuals to take their lead from members of the local LGBT community – who are best placed to advise on what interventions are likely to help, and which ones risk making things more difficult.

“LGBT activists are too often isolated in their own countries; they need the support of fellow human rights activists, women’s rights activists and others campaigning for social justice. Public opinion tends to change when individual members of the public get to know LGBT individuals and realise they are people too. The government should hasten that process, not obstruct it. ”

Radcliffe notes that “you can’t encourage change by staying silent.”

According to Stern, “LGBTI Kenyans have been fighting their own heroic struggle for years, but the extremists have seized upon this opportunity to undermine their credibility as Kenyans.  All Kenyans, gay and straight, lose when there’s this kind of media spin doctoring.”

Stern urged leaders like Obama and the media not to undermine an opportunity to address a spectrum of human rights abuses Kenyans are living with. Instead, she says there should be a focus on concerns which are being left by the wayside, such as the lack of police accountability, abuse by government security forces, abuse of Somali and Muslim communities, and a crackdown on NGOs, among many others.

“If the mechanisms for government accountability are weak, human rights of all stripes will suffer,” says Stern. “Kenyan activists of all stripes, including those working on LGBTI rights, are protesting corruption in government.  They’ve continued calling for accountability for violence in 2007/2008 after elections.

“They’re defending people who’ve been arbitrarily arrested and charged, such as two men in Kwale County being tried under the ‘unnatural offenses law’. They’ve documented hundreds of extrajudicial killings by police in recent years, and they’ve called for police guilty of violence and theft to be disciplined and prosecuted.”

According to Human Rights Watch, Kenya continues to be plagued by corruption at all levels of government with limited accountability.

For example, although both presidents Kenyatta and Ruto campaigned for elected office on pledges to continue their cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has charged both presidents with crimes against humanity in the past, their campaigns later painted the ICC as a tool of Western imperialism, and encouraged other African leaders to undermine the ICC.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mideast Arms Build-up Negative Fallout from Iran Nuclear Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 21:02:36 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141731 In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

The nuclear agreement concluded last week between Iran and six big powers, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, is threatening to trigger a new Middle East military build-up – not with nuclear weapons but with conventional arms, including fighter planes, combat helicopters, warships, missiles, battle tanks and heavy artillery.

The United States is proposing to beef up the military forces of some of its close allies, such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, with additional weapons systems to counter any attempts by Iran to revitalise its own armed forces when U.N. and U.S. sanctions are eventually lifted releasing resources for new purchases.“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal." -- Dr. Natalie J. Goldring

All six countries, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), are predominantly Sunni Muslims as against Shia Iran.

According to one news report, the administration of President Barack Obama is also considering an increase in the hefty annual 3.0-billion-dollar military grant – free, gratis and non-repayable – traditionally provided to Israel over the years to purchase U.S weapons systems.

The proposed increase is being described as a “consolation prize” to Israel which has denounced the nuclear deal as a “historic mistake.”

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS although the nuclear agreement with Iran is likely to aid nuclear nonproliferation efforts, it may also result in a dangerous increase in the proliferation of conventional weapons to the region.

“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal,” she said.

On the other hand, the longstanding sanctions against transfers of major conventional weapons, missiles, and missile systems to Iran will continue for several years under the nuclear agreement, she pointed out.

Even so, Gulf states and Israel are reportedly already lining up for more weapons from the United States.

As usual, their argument seems to be that the weapons are needed for their own defence, she added.

“But who are they defending against? Is the presumed adversary Iran, which remains under a conventional weapons embargo? And who has the military advantage?” asked Dr Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

According to The New York Times, she said, Iran’s military budget is only about a tenth of the combined military budgets of the Sunni states and Israel.

The Times said the Arab Gulf nations spend a staggering 130 billion dollars annually on defence while Iran’s annual military budget is about 15 billion dollars.

Israel spends about 16 billion dollars annually on its defence, plus the 3.0 billion it receives as U.S. military grants.

Nicole Auger, Middle East & Africa Analyst and International Defense Budgets Analyst at Forecast International, a leading U.S. defence research company, told IPS the Times figures are pretty much on target.

Furthermore, she said, the Sunni dominated nations (read: Gulf states) and Israel have strengths that their Iranian rival does not.

“Despite Iran’s manpower advantage and large arsenal of rockets and missiles, the GCC combined and Israel have far greater air power capabilities, not to mention superior aircraft platforms,” said Auger, author of International Military Markets, Middle East & Africa.

The modern, Western hardware purchased through the past decade stands in direct contrast to the ageing inventory of Iranian forces, she added.

Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States.

Israel’s air force is equipped with F-16s, Saudi Arabia, with F-15s and Eurofighter Typhoons, UAE, with F-16s. Kuwait, with Boeing F/A-18C Fighters and Qatar, with Dassault-Mirage 2000-5, eventually to be replaced with the Rafale fighter plane both from France.

Auger said Iran’s most modern fighter is the MiG-29, delivered in the early 1990s.

The rest of the fighter force includes aged U.S.-supplied F-14s, F-4s, and F-5s, as well as Russian-supplied Su-24 attack jets and Dassault Aviation Mirage F-1AD fighter-bombers.

But most of them have remained grounded for lack of spares due to economic and military sanctions by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

Dr Goldring told IPS it has to be acknowledged that the United States and its negotiating partners have secured an important agreement with Iran, which should make it more difficult for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

This agreement should also significantly reduce the likelihood of a U.S. war with Iran. The agreement is a good deal for the United States, its negotiating partners, its allies in the Middle East, and Iran, she added..

Still, the U.S. government is once again contemplating providing highly sophisticated weapons to Middle Eastern nations, even though some of the prospective recipients have horrendous human rights records and questionable internal stability.

Continuing to sell our most modern weapons and technologies also makes it more likely that U.S. military officials will soon be testifying before Congress that they need new weapons systems because the current technologies have already been dispersed around the world, she noted.

“We’ve seen this script before. This approach ignores the risks posed by weapons transfers, and increases the risk that our military personnel will end up fighting our own weapons,” said Dr Goldring.

She pointed out that the prospect of increasing conventional weapons sales as a result of the Iran agreement “looks like a sweet deal for the arms merchants, but not for the rest of us. “

It’s long past time to break out of the traditional pattern of the U.S. government using conventional weapons transfers as bargaining chips.

“Middle Eastern countries need to reduce their stockpiles of conventional weapons, not increase them,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Despite ISIS Ascendancy, U.S. Public Wary of Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/despite-isis-ascendancy-u-s-public-wary-of-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-isis-ascendancy-u-s-public-wary-of-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/despite-isis-ascendancy-u-s-public-wary-of-war/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 13:59:52 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141722 Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

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

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

As the Islamic State, known variously as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, consolidates its hold over parts of Iraq and Syria to the degree that it has in many ways become a functioning state, the U.S. public remains divided over any intervention involving ground troops, a new survey shows.

Sixty-three percent said they approve of the U.S. military campaign against ISIS, with just 26 percent disapproving of the campaign, an increase since President Barack Obama’s first ordered airstrikes against militants in Iraq in August 2014 (when 54 percent approved).

However, only 30 percent said the U.S. military campaign against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria is going very well or fairly well, according to the poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Forty-nine percent said they would oppose the deployment of ground forces against Islamic militants, with 44 percent in favour.

Although the recent murder of five U.S. service members in Chattanooga, Tennessee was dubbed an “ISIS-inspired attack” by the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, it remains unclear what, if any, connections the gunman may have had to terror groups or what his motivation was.

But U.S. officials say they are worried about the threat of ISIS on U.S. soil. Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey claimed the Islamic State now eclipses al Qaeda, and has influenced a significant but unknown number of Americans through a year-long campaign on social media urging Muslims who can’t travel to the Middle East to “kill where you are.”

“It is a very different model,” Comey said. “By virtue of that model it is currently the threat we are worried about in the homeland most of all. ISIL is buzzing on your hip. That message is being pushed all day long, and if you wanna talk to a terrorist, they’re right there on Twitter, direct-messaging for you to communicate with.”

An estimated 3,400 Westerners have traveled overseas to join ISIS in its quest to establish an Islamist state in Iraq and Syria, according to counterterrorism officials. At least 200 Americans have gone or attempted to travel to Syria, although no one knows how many sympathisers they may have within the United States.

“There are thousands of messages being put out into the ethersphere and they’re just hoping that they land on an individual who’s susceptible to that type of terrorist propaganda,” John Carlin, the assistant attorney general heading the Justice Department’s national-security division, told CNN month.

But according to analyst Emile Nakhleh, writing for IPS last September, “ISIS is primarily a threat to Arab countries, not to the United States and other Western countries.”

“Some Bush-era neo-cons and Republican hawks in the Senate who are clamouring for U.S. military intervention in Syria seem to have forgotten the lessons they should have learned from their disastrous invasion of Iraq over a decade ago. Military action cannot save a society when it’s regressing on a warped trajectory of the Divine – ISIS’ proclaimed goal,” he wrote.

“As long as Arab governments are repressive, illegitimate, sectarian, and incompetent, they will be unable to halt the ISIS offensive. In fact, many of these regimes have themselves to blame for the appeal of ISIS. They have cynically exploited religious sectarianism to stay in power.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Obama Offers Help to Track Billions in Stolen Nigerian Assetshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/obama-offers-help-to-track-billions-in-stolen-nigerian-assets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-offers-help-to-track-billions-in-stolen-nigerian-assets http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/obama-offers-help-to-track-billions-in-stolen-nigerian-assets/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 22:38:07 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141709 By a Global Information Network correspondent
WASHINGTON, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

With a dangerous insurgency spreading within his borders, the visit to Washington this week by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was certainly going to touch on increased military support against Boko Haram.

But it also encompassed a discussion of stolen assets – namely billions of dollars siphoned away by bankers, ministers, and in some cases newly-minted millionaires.

According to the new president, about 150 billion dollars has been stolen in the past decade and held in foreign bank accounts by former corrupt officials. It could have been used on education and healthcare, among other spheres of national life, he said.

Adetolunbo Mumuni, director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), praised the agenda: “We welcome the commitment by President Obama to assist the Buhari government in tracking down billions of dollars stolen from the country. However, greater efforts are required by the Obama government to follow through its commitment if it is to secure a measure of justice for Nigerian victims of corruption and money laundering.”

The Nigeria-based organisation asked President Obama to “establish a Presidential Advisory Committee and facilitate a Congressional Hearing on stolen assets from Nigeria. These initiatives would be tremendously important in bringing renewed attention to repatriation of stolen assets to Nigeria.”

“Corruption, money laundering and systematic violations of human rights go hand in hand and that is why President Obama should do everything within his power to get to the bottom of the stolen assets from Nigeria kept in the US,” the group said.

According to SERAP, “Recovering stolen assets from the US is a lingering issue that requires justice and fairness especially given the complicity of US banks and other institutions in corruption and money laundering in Nigeria, and the fact that stolen assets have contributed to the growth of US economy. “

Johnnie Carson, a former assistant secretary of state, concurred in the view that Washington should not let security issues overshadow the need for closer trade and investment ties.

“Nigeria is the most important country in Africa,” said Carson, currently an adviser to the U.S. Institute of Peace. Now more than ever, “the relationship with Nigeria should not rest essentially on a security and military-to-military relationship,” he said.

Still, to demonstrate his resolve at purging incompetence in the military, President Buhari last week dismissed his entire military top brass, even as militants launched deadly attacks in Nigeria’s remote northeast and in Cameroon.

This was discussed at a breakfast meeting Monday with Vice President Joe Biden where they compared notes on the terror war. “Victory cannot come from the military option alone,” Biden told the Nigerian leader.

After the high-level meetings with Obama and Biden, Buhari is scheduled to meet with World Bank executives, members of the U.S. Congress and West African diplomats. He is also scheduled to hold a town hall meeting with Nigerians in the DC area.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Remains Barred from Visiting U.S. Prisons Amid Abuse Chargeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-remains-barred-from-visiting-u-s-prisons-amid-abuse-charges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-remains-barred-from-visiting-u-s-prisons-amid-abuse-charges http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-remains-barred-from-visiting-u-s-prisons-amid-abuse-charges/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 20:23:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141705 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

When U.S. President Barack Obama visited the El Reno Correctional Facility in Oklahoma last week to check on living conditions of prisoners incarcerated there, no one in authority could prevent him from visiting the prison.

There is an extensive body of research on long-term solitary confinement and its damaging effects. Credit: Bigstock

There is an extensive body of research on long-term solitary confinement and its damaging effects. Credit: Bigstock

Obama, the first sitting president to visit a federal penitentiary, said “in too many places, black boys and black men, and Latino boys and Latino men experience being treated different under the law.”

The visit itself was described as “unprecedented” and “historic.”

But the United Nations has not been as lucky as the U.S. president was. Several U.N. officials, armed with mandates from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, have been barred from U.S. penitentiaries which are routinely accused of being steeped in a culture of violence.

Back in 1998, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, was barred from visiting three Michigan prisons to probe sexual misconduct against women prisoners.

Although she had made extensive preparations to interview inmates, Michigan Governor John Engler barred Coomaraswamy on the eve of her proposed visit.

The late Senator Jesse Helms, former chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blocked a proposed prison visit by Bacre Waly Ndiaye, head of the U.N. Human Rights Office in New York, who was planning to observe living conditions in some of the U.S. prisons.

Obama’s visit has prompted the United Nations to give another shot at seeking permission to visit the U.S. prison system.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, and the Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Seong-Phil Hong, have jointly called on the U.S. government to facilitate their requests for an official visit to U.S. prisons to advance criminal justice reform.“AI believes this external scrutiny is particularly important in the case of 'super-maximum' security facilities where prisoners are isolated within an already closed environment." -- Tessa Murphy of Amnesty International

“I look forward to working with the U.S. Department of Justice on the special study commissioned by the President on the need to regulate solitary confinement, which affects 80,000 inmates in the United States, in most cases for periods of months and years,” Méndez said early this week.

“The practice of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement inflicts pain and suffering of a psychological nature, which is strictly prohibited by the Convention Against Torture,” he said.

“Reform along such lines will have considerable impact not only in the United States but in many countries around the world,” he noted.

Hong, who leads the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, said a visit to federal and state institutions “will be an excellent opportunity to discuss with authorities the ‘Basic Principles and Guidelines on the right to anyone deprived of their liberty to bring proceedings before a court’, and to promote its use by the civil society.”

The Working Group has already drafted a set of Principles and Guidelines that “will help establish effective mechanisms to ensure judicial oversight over all situations of deprivation of liberty.”

The document will be considered by the Human Rights Council in September.

According to published reports, there have been charges of unhealthy living conditions and physical beatings, specifically against minorities, including African-Americans and Latin Americans, in the U.S. jail system.

Last month, the administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District announced far reaching reforms, including the proposed appointment of a Federal Monitor to probe continued prisoner abuses in Riker’s Island, described as the second largest jail system in the United States.

Other measures include restrictions on the use of force by prison guards and the installation of surveillance cameras.

Asked whether U.N. Special Rapporteurs (UNSRs) have previously been permitted into U.S. prisons, Tessa Murphy at Amnesty International (AI), told IPS that Juan Mendez hasn’t visited any U.S. supermaximum facility prisons in his role as UNSR.

He has, however, visited Pelican Bay in California as an expert witness in ongoing litigation there.

She also said AI has called on the U.S. State Department to extend an invite repeatedly requested by the UNSR to visit the United States to examine the use of solitary confinement in federal and state facilities, including through on-site visits.

“AI believes this external scrutiny is particularly important in the case of ‘super-maximum’ security facilities where prisoners are isolated within an already closed environment. We continue to call for this access to be provided.”

She pointed out that AI has released several reports calling for access – based on an extensive body of work on long-term solitary confinement and its damaging effects.

Antonio M. Ginatta, Advocacy Director, U.S. Programme at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS it is a momentous time in the United States as it re-examines and moves to reform its criminal justice system.

President Obama himself just spoke to the need for this reform, and specifically highlighted the harms caused by solitary confinement.

“Yet the State Department continues to fail to allow the Special Rapporteur on torture access to U.S. confinement facilities to review their use of solitary confinement. It’s as if they missed the President’s speech,” he said.

Ginatta said an invitation to the Special Rapporteur is years overdue.

“In light of the president’s speech and his visit to the El Reno prison, the U.S. Department of State should change course and immediately extend an unrestricted invitation to Special Rapporteur Mendez and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,” he declared.

After his prison visit, Obama said: “My goal is that we start seeing some improvements at the federal level and that we’re then able to see states across the country pick up the baton, and there are already some states that leading the way in both sentencing reform as well as prison reform and make sure that we’re seeing what works and build off that.”

Providing details of its meetings with U.S. State Department officials, Amnesty International told IPS that in February it met with Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and Director William Mozdzierz in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs to emphasise the importance of facilitating external scrutiny by the SRT as well as to hand over a petition to the State Department (with over 20,000 signatures, on the same issue.)

AI said SRT Mendez has provided them with a list of prisons he wishes to visit, including in Louisiana, California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New York, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Secretary Mozdzierz, stressed to AI that the State Department has a strong national interest in ensuring that the United States lives up to international treaty obligations.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby emphasised how committed the U.S. government is in providing access for the SRT.

However, Secretary Mozdzierz emphasised that access to state prisons is dependent on the individual governors and state Attorney Generals being amenable, and there are no mechanisms by which the State Department can ensure a positive response.

He also made it clear that he would stress to state authorities the importance of facilitating the SRT’s requests. Both Directors acknowledged that BOP ADX prison in Colorado was ‘unavailable’ to SRT Mendez.

SRT Mendez, who met with AI prior to the meetings above, asked AI to seek an explanation for the reason that he had been told in correspondence with State Department that federal prisons were “unavailable” to him.

Secretary Mozdzierz confirmed that the reason federal prisons were “unavailable” to the SRT was because of ongoing litigation in ADX; Cunningham V BOP, which has been in a structured settlement process since last year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Security Council Defies U.S. Lawmakers by Voting on Iran Nuke Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/security-council-defies-u-s-lawmakers-by-voting-on-iran-nuke-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-defies-u-s-lawmakers-by-voting-on-iran-nuke-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/security-council-defies-u-s-lawmakers-by-voting-on-iran-nuke-deal/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 22:06:29 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141659 The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2231 (2015), following the historic agreement in Vienna last week between the E3+3 (France, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union; plus China, Russia and the United States) on one hand, and Iran, on the other, on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. Credit: UN Photo

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2231 (2015), following the historic agreement in Vienna last week between the E3+3 (France, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union; plus China, Russia and the United States) on one hand, and Iran, on the other, on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

When all 15 members of the Security Council raised their collective hands to unanimously vote in favour of the recently-concluded nuclear agreement with Iran, they were also defying a cabal of right-wing conservative U.S. politicians who wanted the United Nations to defer its vote until the U.S. Congress makes its own decision on the pact.

By U.N. standards, in a relatively early morning nine a.m. vote on Monday, the Security Council gave its blessings to the international agreement crafted by its five permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany (P5+1) – which was finalised in Vienna last week after months of protracted negotiations.“Some people just can't accept the fact that we are in an increasingly pluralistic and complex world in which the United States simply cannot assert its will whenever and wherever it feels like." -- Stephen Zunes

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS the United States is the only one of the seven signatory countries (P5+1 and Iran) where there is serious opposition to the agreement, which a broad cross-section of strategic analysts worldwide recognise as the best realistically possible.

“Some people just can’t accept the fact that we are in an increasingly pluralistic and complex world in which the United States simply cannot assert its will whenever and wherever it feels like,” he added.

Successful negotiations require compromises from both sides rather than simply capitulation by one side, said Zunes, who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, one of the prime negotiators of the agreement, responded over the weekend to demands by some U.S. Congressmen that the United States should take political and diplomatic precedence over the United Nations – even on an agreement that was international, not bilateral.

“It’s presumptuous of some people to suspect that France, Russia, China, Germany and Britain ought to do what the (U.S.) Congress tells them to do,” he said during a TV interview.

“They have the right to have a vote,” he said, “but we prevailed on them to delay the implementation of that vote out of respect for our Congress, so we wouldn’t be jamming them,” Kerry added.

According to the New York Times, Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, a ranking Democrat on the panel, sent a joint letter to President Barack Obama last week asking him to postpone the Security Council vote until the U.S. Congress has taken its own decision.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS “it’s often a difficult concept to get across to many members of Congress, but the U.S. government can’t run the world — and sometimes official Washington can’t even run the U.N. Security Council.”

This comes as a shock, or at least an affront, to Republicans and quite a few Democrats on Capitol Hill who may never use the word hegemony but fervently believe that the U.S. is a light onto all nations and should not hide that light under such a dubious bushel as international law, he pointed out.

“In this case, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or scream at the dangerous U.S. congressional arrogance that is seeking to upend the Iran deal,” said Solomon, who is also founder and coordinator of RootsAction.org, an online action group with some 600,000 active supporters.

Historically, U.S. government policies have been responsible for a great deal of nuclear proliferation in the world, he said.

“Washington still won’t officially acknowledge that Israel now possesses nuclear weapons, and U.S. leaders have turned aside from any and all proposals to seek a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East,” said Solomon.

On Monday, the 28-member European Union (EU) also approved the Iran nuclear deal paving the way for the lifting of Europe’s economic sanctions against Tehran.

“It is a balanced deal that means Iran won’t get an atomic bomb,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. “It is a major political deal.”

The permanent representative of Britain to the United Nations, Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, expressed similar sentiments Monday when he said “the world is now a safer place in the knowledge that Iran cannot now build a nuclear bomb.”

Solomon told IPS the United States is among the leading countries that have promulgated commercial nuclear power in dozens of nations, steadfastly denying the reality that nuclear energy for electricity generation is a major pathway for the development of nuclear weapons.

“We have seen no acknowledgement of this fact in Washington’s high places, let alone steps to move the world away from such dangerous nuclear-power extravaganzas,” he said.

The Iran nuclear agreement now on the table is one of the few big diplomatic achievements that the Obama administration can legitimately claim some credit for, he argued.

But many of the most chauvinistic forces in Washington, he noted, are now doing their best to undermine it.

“In the context of the United Nations, as well as in political arenas of the United States, this dynamic should be fully recognised for what it is — a brazen attempt by, frankly, warmongers in the U.S. Congress to rescue their hopes for war with Iran from the jaws of a peaceful solution.”

After the vote, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Security Council Resolution 2231, adopted Monday, will ensure the enforcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iran nuclear agreement.

He said it establishes procedures that will facilitate the JCPOA’s implementation, enabling all States to carry out their obligations contained in the Agreement.

“The resolution provides for the eventual removal of all nuclear-related sanctions against Iran. It guarantees that the International Atomic Energy Agency will continue to verify Iran’s compliance with its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.”

The United Nations, he assured, stands ready to provide whatever assistance is required in giving effect to the resolution.

Zunes told IPS as nuclear treaties between the United States and the Soviets demonstrated, you can be geopolitical rivals and strongly oppose the other’s system of government and still recognise there is such a thing as a win/win solution on arms control.

Most agreements regarding nuclear weapons have required reciprocity, but none of Iran’s nuclear-armed neighbours — Israel, Pakistan, or India — will be required to eliminate or reduce their weapons or become open to inspections despite the fact that they continue to be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding their nuclear programmes, he added.

And none of the other nuclear powers, including five of the six nations that led the negotiations, will be required to reduce their arsenals either.

“Any notion that Iran could somehow be gaining an unfair advantage through this agreement is utterly absurd,” declared Zunes.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Iran Deal Has Far-Reaching Potential to Remake International Relationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-iran-deal-has-far-reaching-potential-to-remake-international-relations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-iran-deal-has-far-reaching-potential-to-remake-international-relations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-iran-deal-has-far-reaching-potential-to-remake-international-relations/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 12:14:41 +0000 Arul Louis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141650

Arul Louis, a New York-based journalist and international affairs analyst, is a senior fellow of the Society for Policy Studies. He can be contacted at arullouis@spsindia.in.

By Arul Louis
NEW YORK, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

The Vienna agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council acting in concert with Germany has the potential to remake international relations beyond the immediate goal of stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Courtesy of Arul Louis/ICFJ

Courtesy of Arul Louis/ICFJ

Its impact could be felt at various levels, from United States engagement in the Middle East to the interaction of the competitive global powers, and from the economics of natural resources to the dynamics of Iranian society and politics.

President Barack Obama has invested an inordinate amount of political capital on the deal, challenging many in the United States political arena and Washington’s key allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia in hopes that a breakthrough on Iran would be his presidency’s international legacy along with his Cuba opening.

Obama is gambling on the nation’s war-weariness after the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that took a total toll of 6,855 casualties and, according to a Harvard researcher, is costing the nation at least $4 trillion. He presented the nation with a stark choice: War or Peace.

“There really are only two alternatives here,” he said, “either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically, through a negotiation, or it’s resolved through force, through war.”Even if Washington and Tehran don't recapture the closeness of the Pahlevi era, the U.S. will increase its options in the Middle East, a region posing a growing to the world threat from the Sunni-based Islamic State or ISIL.

Though the deal has been denounced by Republicans and some Democrats, and, earlier, the opponents had taken the unprecedented step of inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make their case before Congress, Obama expects to carry the day. Even if Congress votes against the agreement, Obama reckons the opposition will not be able to able to get the two-thirds majority to override his threatened veto.

Obama’s Iran legacy, if it works according to plan, will not have the impact of Richard Nixon’s opening to China, but it still could mark the end of 36 years of virulent hostilities. Even if Washington and Tehran don’t recapture the closeness of the Pahlevi era, the U.S. will increase its options in the Middle East, a region posing a growing to the world threat from the Sunni-based Islamic State or ISIL. Right now Washington is hamstrung by unsure Sunni allies in the region.

Already in Iraq, the U.S. and Iran have been working with different elements on parallel tracks against ISIL. Obama has been blamed for pulling out U.S. troops from Iraq, although it was largely in keeping with his predecessor George W. Bush’s timetable, and for failing to reach an agreement with Baghdad on stationing some troops beyond the pullout deadline. These have been mentioned as factors leading to the rise of ISIL.

Now, there is a chance for Obama to redeem himself through the cooperation of Iran, even if they will not go to the extent of a formal agreement.

In the other ISIL flashpoint to the west of Iraq, there seems to be implacable differences on Syria. Tehran stands firmly by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington considers the irreconcilable foe of peace in that civil war ravaged country. Bridging this gap even if by face-saving measures would be the true test of a diplomatic shift.

The Iran nuclear issue takes the inevitable colour of a Shia-Sunni conflict. In the first place, the unspoken impetus for Tehran’s nuclear ambitions was Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and the threat from its Sunni fundamentalists against Shias.

Now Pakistan’s stock will rise in Saudi Arabia and other Sunni nations as hedge, a Sunni-dominated nuclear power ranged against Iran, which they mistrust.

Add to this mix Israel, which has developed an unlikely alliance with Saudi Arabia. For Israel, the threat comes from fears of the millenarian trends among some Shia Muslims that could cancel out the insurance that Jerusalem, sacred to the Muslims, provides and Teheran’s venomous, ant-Semitic rhetoric.

But a more immediate issue for Israel is Tehran’s support for the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah. The sanctions against Iran limited its potential financial and material backing for these organisations and the flow of funds after sanctions are lifted could boost Tehran’s adventurism, directly and through proxies, Israel fears.

On the global diplomatic front, the Iran deal is a break from the incessant U.N. Security Council squabbles that have hobbled it as issues like Ukraine, Syria, the South China Sea and assorted hotspots in Africa burn. Russia and China showed they could work intensively with the West. Moscow even earned plaudits from Obama for its role in facilitating the deal.

Russia and Iran share some common interests in places like Syria, Central Asia and the caucuses. An unbridled Tehran could more effectively cooperate with Moscow in these areas.

Economically, Russia, like other oil producers, may be hit by falling oil prices, but the diplomatic congruence and future arms sales could compensate.

For the European Union and China, the deal opens up business opportunities in a nation with tremendous economic potential along with lower oil prices.

Iran has the fourth largest known reserves of oil and its current production of 1.1 million barrels could soar to four million within a year. For most of the developing world, further reduction in oil prices will be a great help, even as it increases political and social pressures in some oil-producers.

The picture for India is mixed . It has been paying for Iranian oil imports in rupees while it has been exporting limited amounts of machinery and chemicals. The bilateral trade is in Iran’s favor and is estimated at about 14 billion dollars, with Indian imports at about 10 billion and exports at about 4 billion.

Now India may be able to buy more oil, but it will have to pay in rupees and its exports will have to compete with the rest of the world. With the prospects sanctions going away, India is already facing Tehran’s truculence in oil and gas and railway projects they had agreed on.

The Chabahar port project remains the strategic cornerstone of India’s ambitious engagement with Iran The port on the Gulf of Oman would give India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia bypassing Pakistan.

Chabahar is also a counterweight to Beijing’s Gawadhar project in Pakistan that would provide another sea outlet for China, Afghanistan and Central Asian countries.

On the nuclear nonproliferation front, the Iranian agreement chalks up a small victory after North Korean blatantly developed nuclear weapons. The world has been unable to confront Pyongyang diplomatically or militarily because of its mercurial nature leadership that borders on the insane.

For the Iranians themselves, the deal could ease up their lives and bringing back some normalcy. The bigger question is how it would play in the dynamics of Iranian politics. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved the deal, but he has since expressed mistrust of the West in keeping its end of the bargain. That may be rein euphoria and send a message to the moderates.

Would the deal lead to a lessening of the paranoia among the religious and nationalist elements in Iran and in turn strengthen the moderates and push the present day heirs of the ancient Persian civilisation towards a relatively liberal modernity? If that were to happen Iran would have truly emerged from the shadows of international isolation.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Myths About the Nuclear Deal With Iranhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/the-myths-about-the-nuclear-deal-with-iran/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-myths-about-the-nuclear-deal-with-iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/the-myths-about-the-nuclear-deal-with-iran/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 22:05:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141644 EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini with with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and American Secretary of State John Kerry at the Palais Coburg Hotel, the venue of the nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria on July 9, 2015. Credit: European External Action Service

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini with with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and American Secretary of State John Kerry at the Palais Coburg Hotel, the venue of the nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria on July 9, 2015. Credit: European External Action Service

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

The single biggest misunderstanding about the nuclear agreement with Iran is that it is a bilateral deal with the United States.

Not true.“Beware of American and Israeli politicians and commentators who claim this agreement will enable Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, or that if the U.S. Congress rejects the deal, more negotiations will deliver a better one. Sticking this non-proliferation pudding back in the oven at a higher heat is more likely to get us all burned." --
Dr Rebecca Johnson

The agreement involved the U.N.’s five big powers, namely, the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany (P5+1).

But still, right-wing conservatives and U.S. legislators want to dissect and delegitimise an international agreement, whose clauses include the phased removal of U.N. sanctions on Iran.

The Security Council, where the P5 have veto powers, will meet next week to adopt a resolution and thereby give its blessings to the agreement.

But pro-Israeli groups and some members of the U.S. Congress want it delayed, arguing the United States should take political precedence over the United Nations.

At a press conference early this week, Wendy Sherman, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and a member of the U.S. negotiating team, told reporters: “Well, the way that the U.N. Security Council resolution is structured, there is an interim period of 60 to 90 days that I think will accommodate the congressional review.”

And it would have been a little difficult, she said, “when all of the members of the P5+1 wanted to go to the United Nations to get an endorsement of this since it is a product of the United Nations process, for us to say, ‘Well, excuse me, the world, you should wait for the United States Congress.’”

“The proof of the Iran nuclear deal will be in its results,” Dr Rebecca Johnson, director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and member of Princeton University’s International Panel on Fissile Materials, told IPS.

“I’ve spent time talking with American and Iranian scientists, diplomats and also human rights defenders. None of us is naive about the hurdles still to be overcome, and yet we are convinced this agreement is a positive step forward – and much better than more years of stalemate and hostility,” she added.

“But we also have to be honest that preventing nuclear proliferation and promoting human rights doesn’t stop with that. We welcome that Iran was one of 112 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) states parties to sign the humanitarian pledge initiated by Vienna this year, to ‘fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons’.”

Dr Johnson said “multilateral negotiations to ban nuclear weapons as well as efforts to rid the
Middle East of all nuclear and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have to keep going forward if we want to avoid further proliferation and nuclear threats in the future.”

Responding to the strong negative reactions from Israel, Hillel Schenker, Co-Editor, Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to think the deal between the global powers and Iran is “the end of the world.”

His house organ, the Yisrael Hayom freebie, financed by the right-wing Las Vegas-based casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is active on both the Israeli and American political playing fields, greeted the deal with the headline “An Eternally Disgraceful Deal”.

The leaders of the opposition, on the other hand, have declared that the agreement is a “bad deal”, only criticising Netanyahu for ruining Israel’s relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.S. government.

“What we are actually witnessing however is the failure of Netanyahu’s policy of fear, and the triumph of President Obama’s policy of hope,” Schenker added.

He also said, “Netanyahu was nurtured in a home dominated by his father, the late Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, whose analysis of the Spanish Inquisition led him to conclude that no matter what we, the Jews and the Israelis, do, the whole world will continue to be against us, and we can only rely on ourselves.”

This approach, he argued, is totally contrary to the approach of the founding fathers of modern Zionism, all of whom understood the importance of creating alliances with global powers.

Dr M.V. Ramana, a physicist and lecturer at Princeton University’s Programme on Science and Global Security and the Nuclear Futures Laboratory, told IPS the confrontation with Iran has been built up with very little evidence open to the public, allowing for all kinds of claims to be made.

“I hope that this deal will put an end to such Iran-bashing. In any case, I think the deal is an important step in the right direction,” he said.

The next step is for all the countries in the region to accept the same nuclear limitations as Iran – in particular, Israel, he added.

“It is high time the international community turned its attention to Israel and demand that the country eliminate its nuclear arsenal and the nuclear facilities that allow it to manufacture nuclear weapons,” said Dr Ramana, author of “The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India” and a member of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the International Panel on Fissile Materials.

Dr Johnson told IPS that negotiations, like baking, involve craft as well as science – getting the timing as well as the ingredients right is crucial.

She said diplomatic persistence made the time right for this deal to be brokered, but Americans, Israelis, Iranians, Arabs, Europeans and the rest of the world have to commit to going forward or it won’t succeed.

“Beware of American and Israeli politicians and commentators who claim this agreement will enable Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, or that if the U.S. Congress rejects the deal, more negotiations will deliver a better one,” she warned.

“Sticking this non-proliferation pudding back in the oven at a higher heat is more likely to get us all burned.”

She said such erroneous claims just feed into the hard-line minority in Iran – rump factions close to former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – that would also benefit if this deal is rejected.

“I don’t think those commentators are so naive that they actually believe their criticisms of the deal. They don’t want Iran to come in from the cold because – for whatever political or financial reasons of their own – they have a vested interest in stoking outdated rivalries and continuing to demonise and isolate Iran.”

She also said sanctions are a blunt instrument of coercion, usually causing most harm to the most vulnerable – women and children – and playing into authoritarian cliques who want to suppress human rights and democracy.

“It will be a tragic lost opportunity if these U.S. and Iranian hard-liners succeed in derailing this constructive nuclear agreement,” she declared.

Schenker told IPS said Netanyahu’s entire political career has been based on fear-mongering, and the need for “a strong leader” to confront the dangers.

In the recent election, this was typified by his last minute declaration that “the (Israeli) Arabs are going to the polling stations in droves, being bused-in by left-wingers.”

But during his past three terms, the ultimate source of fear was the threat of the Iranian bomb, which was picturesquely presented at the U.N. General Assembly session two years ago, and with his speech before U.S. Congress last year.

The headline in today’s Ma’ariv daily (Friday, June 17), is that “47 percent of the Israeli public favour a military attack on Iran following the signing of the agreement”, despite the fact that virtually the entire leadership of the Israeli military and security establishment is opposed to such an attack.

The survey results are clearly the product of the fears generated by Netanyahu and his allies, and much of the mainstream media commentators. However, alternative, calmer voices are also being heard, Schenker noted.

Many Israeli observers wonder why Netanyahu thinks he can still go against the entire international community, with the aid of his Republican allies in the U.S., given that they have no chance to overturn a presidential veto of any obstructionist resolution that they may pass.

As President Clinton once said after his first meeting with Netanyahu back in 1996, “Who does he think he is? Who’s the superpower here?”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Big Oil Privately Accepted Global Warming, but Publicly Battled Climate Sciencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/big-oil-privately-accepted-global-warming-but-publicly-battled-climate-science/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=big-oil-privately-accepted-global-warming-but-publicly-battled-climate-science http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/big-oil-privately-accepted-global-warming-but-publicly-battled-climate-science/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 18:42:42 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141628 Exxon was responsible for the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Here, part of the spill in the Chenega Bay, Evans lsland (Prince William Sound). Credit: ARLIS Reference.

Exxon was responsible for the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Here, part of the spill in the Chenega Bay, Evans lsland (Prince William Sound). Credit: ARLIS Reference.

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

For decades, executives and decision makers at major U.S. and European fossil fuel companies were aware that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions caused global warming, but still provided millions in funding to boost disinformation campaigns and sponsor scientists who denied climate change.

As early as 1981, more than a decade before the first meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), leaders at oil giant Exxon acknowledged the connection between fossil fuels and climate change.“Their aim was to sell doubt. They don't have to disprove climate change, [they] just have to make people believe there was not consensus." -- Nancy Cole

The revelations emerged as part of a report released by the Washington, D.C.-based Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), called the Climate Deception Dossiers, which explores the tactics promoted by companies such as ExxonMobil, Shell, Peabody Energy, Chevron and Conoco-Phillips to undermine climate science.

“They were already factoring the risks of climate change in their business as early as 1981, and 34 years later they continue to lie to the people and undermining climate science”, Nancy Cole, Director of Campaigns for the UCS Climate and Energy Program and contributor to the report, told IPS.

The Dossiers show how Exxon and other major companies funded a vast disinformation campaign that included climate deniers, contrarian think tanks and public relations firms, with evidence pointing in their direction as recently as 2015.

“Their aim was to sell doubt. They don’t have to disprove climate change, [they] just have to make people believe there was not consensus,” said Cole.

One of the climate rebukers is Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon, an engineer affiliated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who received more than 1.2 million dollars in big-oil funding between 2001 and 2012 and whose salary relied exclusively on their grants, according to UCS.

For years, Soon’s academic papers have largely overstated the solar influence in global warming and have been methodically discredited by fellow researchers, scientific journals and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but have been used by conservative politicians and big oil companies to cast doubt on the climate consensus.

A 2014 e-mail by climate scientist Lenny Bernstein, an Exxon employee during the 1980s, revealed that the company was aware as early as 1981 of CO2 emissions. The oil giant decided against exploring the Natuna gas field, off the coast of Indonesia, after being alerted about the massive amount of CO2 trapped in it and the potential for future carbon-cutting regulations.

If exploited, its release would have been the single largest source of global warming pollution at the time, accounting to roughly one per cent of the world’s emissions in 1981.

“In the 1980s, Exxon needed to understand the potential for concerns about climate change to lead to regulation that would affect Natuna and other potential projects,” wrote Bernstein, a veteran of almost 30 years in the industry.

The full UCS report includes over 330 pages of document from around 85 internal company and trade association documents spanning 27 years.

For instance, during the 2009 discussion of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which proposed a federal carbon emission reduction plan, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) hired a PR firm which forged letters from diverse organisations to lobby congressmen and women against the bill.

Another major player in the report is the American Petroleum Institute (API), self-proclaimed “only national trade association that represents all aspects of America’s oil and natural gas industry”.

A 1998 internal API strategy document outlines the roadmap devised to confront the ever-growing climate change science and explicitly aimed to confuse and misinform the public, by sponsoring contrarian scientists and targeting teachers, schools and students across the United States.

The document states that victory would be achieved when “average citizens ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science.” IPS reached out to API by e-mail but got no answer.

Their modus operandi mimics that of tobacco companies, according to former U.S. Department of Justice lawyer Sharon Eubanks who led the Department’s successful lawsuit against the tobacco companies.

“It’s like what we discovered with tobacco – the more you push back the date of knowledge of the harm, the more you delay any remediation, the more people are affected,” Eubanks told DeSmog website.

This was echoed by Katherine Sawyer, the International Climate Organiser at the watchdog group Corporate Accountability International, who told IPS that “we wouldn’t let the tobacco industry create tobacco control policy, so why are we letting the fossil fuel industry create climate change policy?” – referring to their participation in U.N. processes.

Some fossil fuel companies appear, at least publicly, to be willing to contribute to a solution. Six major European companies (Shell, BP, Total, Statoil, BG Group, and Eni) sent an open letter to the UNFCCC and the French Government stating they can take faster climate action if governments provide a global interlinked system of carbon pricing.

“If governments act to price carbon, this discourages high carbon options and encourages the most efficient ways of reducing emissions widely,” states their letter.

But the decades-long opposition of fossil fuel companies has eroded their credibility among climate scientists, activists and much of the public.

“For 20 years, the world’s largest polluters have stymied progress in the UNFCCC by exerting undue influence over the treaty process—from direct lobbying to sponsoring the talks themselves,” said Sawyer, recalling that this year’s COP21 climate talks in Paris will be sponsored by corporations like EDF and ENGIE whose coal operations contribute to the equivalent of nearly 50 percent of France’s emissions

“In order for the UNFCCC process to create the meaningful policy our planet desperately needs, negotiators need to kick big polluters out,” she said.

Throughout the world, fossil fuel companies have been hit both in their image and their financial appeal after years of campaigning by divestment groups, organisations that promote getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds linked to high-carbon industries such as coal, oil, and carbon.

“I definitely feel like the fossil fuel divestment movement is David against Goliath,” Perri Haser, lead organiser of the divestment campaign at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, told IPS. “But here’s the thing about David and Goliath: we know how that story ends.”

A 2013 report highlighted how 90 companies, 50 of them publicly traded, were responsible for almost two-thirds of the world’s industrial carbon emissions over the past two and a half centuries.

That several major oil companies acknowledged risks from CO2 emissions as early as the 1980s doubles its significance since more than half of all industrial carbon emissions from 1750 onwards have been released since 1988.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Nuclear Deal Takes U.S.-Iran Ties Out of Deep Freeze – Partly, at Leasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/nuclear-deal-takes-u-s-iran-ties-out-of-deep-freeze-partly-at-least/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-deal-takes-u-s-iran-ties-out-of-deep-freeze-partly-at-least http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/nuclear-deal-takes-u-s-iran-ties-out-of-deep-freeze-partly-at-least/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 17:15:29 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141571 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets one-on-one with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif amid nuclear talks in Vienna on July 1. Credit: State Department

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets one-on-one with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif amid nuclear talks in Vienna on July 1. Credit: State Department

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

A historic deal on Iran’s controversial nuclear programme was announced today during the early morning hours in Vienna over a decade after talks between Tehran and world powers began.

“This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change,” said U.S. President Barack Obama from the East Room of the White House.

“Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East,” he said. “This is the beginning of what could be a process of the U.S. and Iran developing a better and more normal relationship. I don’t expect that to be instant…but you have to begin some place, and it’s a good beginning.” -- Gary Sick

“This is a historic day also because we are creating the conditions for building trust and opening a new chapter in our relationship,” Iran’s top negotiator, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, said in Vienna.

The “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA), drafted during 18 consecutive days of intensive negotiations in the Austrian capital by Iran and the P5+1 (US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany), freezes Iran’s nuclear programme for the next decade in exchange for gradual sanctions relief.

The agreement “establishes a strong and effective formula for blocking all of the pathways by which Iran could acquire material for nuclear weapons,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association.

“When implemented, the P5+1 and Iran agreement will establish long-term, verifiable restrictions on Iran’s sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities—many of these restrictions will last for 10 years, some for 15 years, and some for 25 years,” he added.

New Era

The process that led to the deal signed today by Iran and world powers took 12 years.

Three Western European countries, known then as the EU-3 (France, Germany, U.K.), began the negotiations with Iran in 2003 before the U.S., along with China and Russia, finally joined the talks in 2006 and formed the E3+3 (or P5+1).

It would take five more years of on-and-off talks, threats of war, a crippling sanctions regime, sabotage, assassinations, cyber warfare, and a change of presidents in Tehran and Washington before an interim agreement was finally reached in 2013.

The deal was made between Iran and six world powers, but direct U.S.-Iranian engagement proved to be the key ingredient of success.

Tehran and Washington have been enemies since 1979 when Iranians brought down their U.S.-backed monarch in a domestically supported revolution premised on the notion of independence from Western exploitation.

The 1979 Iranian student takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, which led to 52 American diplomats and citizens being held hostage for 444 days, and Washington’s support of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein while he launched an 8-year war with Iran in 1980, are still cited as major grievances by both sides.

But the August 2013 presidential election of Hassan Rouhani—a centrist, moderate cleric known as the “diplomatic sheik” in Tehran—resulted in a new era of U.S.-Iran relations.

With the tacit support of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Rouhani cautiously accepted Obama’s outreach to Tehran from his first month in office, beginning with the phone call—the first U.S.-Iran direct presidential contact in more than 35 years—that occurred between the two leaders during the Iranian president’s first visit to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2013.

The presidents have yet to meet face-to-face, but direct, high-level U.S.-Iranian meetings during the talks—once taboo—became unremarkable in the last 18 months of the negotiations after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met directly with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif at the UNGA during Rouhani’s visit.

This is not the first time Tehran and Washington have cooperated since the Iranian revolution. Iran’s assistance—led by Zarif when he was ambassador to the U.N.—proved crucial to the U.S. mission to establish a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001.

But it is the first time since the 1979 Iranian revolution that Tehran and Washington have negotiated during an extended period of time, openly and respectfully at the highest level to bring about an internationally sanctioned accord.

“That’s what they mean by confidence-building measures,” said Gary Sick, a former national security official and Columbia University scholar who has been studying U.S.-Iran relations for decades.

“This is the beginning of what could be a process of the U.S. and Iran developing a better and more normal relationship,” he added. “I don’t expect that to be instant…but you have to begin some place, and it’s a good beginning.”

Critics voice discontent

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been warning about an impending Iranian nuclear weapon since 1995, called the deal “a bad mistake of historic proportion” today.

“Our concern, of course, is that the militant Islamic state of Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that Iran, which he has repeatedly likened to the Islamic State—a terrorist group operating in Iraq and Syria—would get a “jackpot of cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars.”

The Iranian parliament, which has expressed consistent criticism of the negotiations, will also review the deal though no timeframe has been set.

But the accord will likely face its harshest criticism in the U.S. Congress where lawmakers have 60 days to review it after the official date of submission.

Influential Republicans have already threatened to block it.

“This ‘deal’ will only embolden Iran – the world’s largest sponsor of terror – by helping stabilize and legitimize its regime as it spreads even more violence and instability in the region,” said House Speaker John Boehner in a statement.

“We will fight a bad deal that is wrong for our national security and wrong for our country,” he added.
President Obama vowed, however, to veto any bill that delays its implementation.

“This is not the time for politics or posturing,” he said Tuesday. “The world would not support an effort to permanently sanction Iran into submission.”

Rapprochement?

Even before the final deal was announced, officials on both sides were already hinting that a successful conclusion to the talks could lay the groundwork for further U.S.-Iranian cooperation.

“It’s clear to me that if an agreement is successfully reached, satisfactory to everybody, a conversation might be able to begin,” Secretary of State John Kerry told the Boston Globe three days before the deal was announced.

“[The] #IranDeal is not a ceiling but a solid foundation,” wrote Foreign Minister Zarif on Twitter the day the accord was announced. “We must now begin to build on it.”

But while official statements from both countries have become increasingly suggestive in the last two years, hopes for a Nixon-to-China historical replay between the long-time adversaries are likely premature.

“Thirty-five years of mistrust and hostilities cannot be resolved through only the nuclear issue,” Hossein Mousavian, who served as the spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiating team when Rouhani was its chief, told IPS.

“A deal is a success and big step toward lessening tension…but the wall of mistrust is so thick that breaking it down would take some years,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Putting the “Integrity of the Earth’s Ecosystems” at the Centre of the Sustainable Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/putting-the-integrity-of-the-earths-ecosystems-at-the-centre-of-the-sustainable-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=putting-the-integrity-of-the-earths-ecosystems-at-the-centre-of-the-sustainable-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/putting-the-integrity-of-the-earths-ecosystems-at-the-centre-of-the-sustainable-development-agenda/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 22:22:31 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141446 Mangrove forests, like this one in western Sri Lanka, can store up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare in their biomass, yet they are being felled at three to five times the rate of other forests. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Mangrove forests, like this one in western Sri Lanka, can store up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare in their biomass, yet they are being felled at three to five times the rate of other forests. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

By 2050, we will be a world of nine billion people. Not only does this mean there’ll be two million more mouths to feed than there are at present, it also means these mouths will be consuming more – in the next 20 years, for instance, an estimated three billion people will enter the middle class, in addition to the 1.8 billion estimated to be within that income bracket today.

These changes are going to put unprecedented pressure on the world’s natural resources, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s International Resource Panel (IRP).

Entitled ‘Policy Coherence of the Sustainable Development Goals: A Natural Resource Perspective’, the report warns that maintaining and restoring healthy ecosystems will be critical for the successful realisation of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda.

Unless the new development blueprint is centered on protecting and respecting the earth’s limited bounty, the goals of poverty eradication and ensuring decent lives for current and future generations will fall by the wayside, experts predict.

For instance, IRP studies have shown that annual global extraction increased “by a factor of eight in the 20th century” from seven billion tonnes of material in 1900 to 68 billion tonnes of resources by 2009.

Based on current trends, resource use and extraction could hit 140 billion tonnes by 2050 – three times what was extracted in the year 2000, according to UNEP data.

“Due to declining ore grades, depending on the material concerned, about three times as much material needs to be moved today for the same ore extraction as a century ago, with concomitant increases in land disruption, groundwater implications and energy use,” UNEP said in a press release on Jul. 6.

Meanwhile, pressures on biotic resources are also on the rise, with 20 percent of cultivated land, 30 percent of the world’s forests and 10 percent of its grasslands being degraded at a rate that far outstrips the ability of such earth systems to replenish themselves.

Deterioration of ecosystems also threatens to worsen the impacts of climate change, contribute to water scarcity and exacerbate world hunger, with environmental experts fearing that 25 percent of total global food production could be lost by 2050 as a result of converging land and resource issues.

“The core challenge of achieving the SDGs will be to lift a further one billion people out of absolute poverty and address inequalities, while meeting the resource needs – in terms of energy, land, water, food and material supply – of an estimated eight billion people in 2030,” U.N. Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said Monday.

“The fulfillment of the SDGs in word and spirit will require fundamental shifts in the manner with which humanity views the natural environment in relation to human development,” he added.

Representing over 30 renowned experts and scientists, and as many national governments, the IRP today called for the “prudent management and use of natural resources, given that several Goals are inherently dependent on the achievement of higher resource productivity, ecosystem restoration and resource conservation”.

The report also urged policy makers to introduce practices based on a ‘circular economy’ approach, whereby reusing, recycling and remanufacturing products and other materials reduces waste by “decoupling” natural resource use from economic progress.

While the SDGs represent a bold and wide-reaching framework for ending some of the world’s most pressing problems – among them hunger and extreme poverty – avoiding counter-productive results will depend on a “commitment to maintaining the integrity of the Earth’s systems while addressing the resource demands driven by individual goals,” UNEP experts cautioned.

As the world’s population increases, and more people climb into the ranks of the middle class (defined by increased income and a corresponding rise in consumption), it will become crucial for individuals to adopt consumption patterns – and governments and corporations to adopt production systems – that contribute to human well-being “without putting unsustainable pressures on the environment and natural resources”, the report said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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