Inter Press Service » North America http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 26 Nov 2014 10:52:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Survivors of Sexual Violence Face Increased Riskshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/survivors-of-sexual-violence-face-increased-risks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-sexual-violence-face-increased-risks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/survivors-of-sexual-violence-face-increased-risks/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 19:10:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137954 Students at Columbia University carry mattresses on the Carry That Weight National Day of Action to show their support for survivors of sexual assault. Credit: Warren Heller

Students at Columbia University carry mattresses on the Carry That Weight National Day of Action to show their support for survivors of sexual assault. Credit: Warren Heller

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

“A recurring nightmare for me is I’m trying to tell someone something and they are not listening. I’m yelling at the top of my lungs and it feels like there is a glass wall between us.”

Jasmin Enriquez is a two-time survivor of rape. Like two-thirds of rape survivors, Enriquez knew her rapists. The first was her boyfriend when she was a high school senior, the second a fellow student she had been seeing at college."What I hear from women is that they are told to shut up: they are told to shut up during it, they are told to shut up after it, and they are told by some institutions to continue keeping their mouths shut." -- Dr. Dana Sinopoli

“[The nightmare] shows how I’ve always felt that even as someone coming forward as a survivor, as soon as I start giving details to some people, they instantly start to shut it down. As in, you’re being crazy or hyperemotional, instead of taking it as one whole piece and looking at it holistically,” Enriquez told IPS.

Women who have experienced gender-based violence are at a significantly increased risk of developing a mental disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression, within one to three years after the assault.

Enriquez explains, “People don’t seem to understand that after being sexually assaulted, it’s something that you have to live with the rest of your life.

“Most of the time there is an incredible amount of anxiety or depression or other mental health issues that people just don’t understand,” she says. “It’s been five years since I was sexually assaulted and I still live through the trauma.”

A special Lancet series published Friday says that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner.

Researcher Dr. Susan Rees from the University of New South Wales told IPS that there is strong evidence that if you are exposed to gender-based violence, you are at a much higher risk for the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression as well as attempted suicide.

Rees’ research into the connection between gender-based violence and mental disorders has shown that women who have been assaulted are significantly more likely to experience a mental disorder in their lifetime.

Women who have experienced one form of gender-based violence have a 57 percent chance of developing a mental disorder compared with only 28 percent of women who have not experienced gender-based violence. Significantly, 89 percent of women who have experienced gender-based violence three to four times will develop a mental disorder.

It is important for survivors of assault to get early support to help prevent the onset of an associated mental disorder, Rees said.

However, experiencing sexual assault can be confusing, especially for young women and girls, and this may prevent them from getting early intervention.

Enriquez explains that she didn’t initially realise the connection between her response to the trauma of sexual violence and the symptoms she was experiencing.

“I’ve recently been very jumpy, kind of always tense and I get startled easy, I didn’t understand why that was happening and it was very frustrating.”

Enriquez’ fiancé, who is not the person who assaulted her, used to jump out at her or play games to surprise her, and she found this really upsetting,

“I didn’t understand that it was related to me being sexually assaulted until probably my senior year of college. I feel like if I had been educated about what normal symptoms are of PTSD, I would have known that there was more to it and that it was a normal piece of it.”

Community attitudes affect prevalence

Community attitudes towards women, including strong patriarchal attitudes, power imbalance and gender inequality contribute to the prevalence of violence against women, said Rees.

“It makes sense that if you change attitudes then you can change prevalence, you can reduce the risk for women,” she said.

This is what Enriquez aims to do with her organisation Only With Consent. Together with her fiancé, Enriquez speaks with students to raise awareness and change young people’s attitudes towards sexual assault.

“I definitely think that there’s a gender piece that goes with both the mental health and the sexual assault and that it ties back to any time a woman expresses an emotion of being angry or upset we immediately call her out for being irrational or emotional.” Enriquez told IPS.

“If the majority of survivors who are speaking out are women, and they are expressing these feelings of being upset or being angry, or being really hurt, or any of those feelings, we discredit what they are saying, because we see them as irrational creatures,” Enriquez said.

Psychologist Dr. Dana Sinopoli told IPS that it is also important to consider how gender-based violence affects men, especially men who experience childhood sexual assault. She said that this should involve addressing gender stereotypes such as that men are aggressive or impulsive.

As Carry That Weight explains on its website:

“People of all gender identities can experience and be affected by sexual and domestic violence—women are not the only survivors just as men are not the only perpetrators. We strive to challenge narrow and inaccurate representations of what assault looks like and also acknowledge that these forms of violence disproportionately affect women, transgender, gender nonconforming, and disabled people.”

Sinopoli added however that changing community attitudes towards women was an important part of addressing gender-based violence.

“Consistently what I hear from women is that they are told to shut up, they are told to shut up during it, they are told to shut up after it, and they are told by some institutions to continue keeping their mouths shut.

“That is what we can link to the depression and the anxiety and a lot of the re-experiencing and retriggering that is so central to PTSD,” Sinopoli said.

Sinopoli added that “the way that society reacts, to someone who discloses or is struggling, is so important.

“The more that people speak up the more that we will actually see a decline in such significant psychological symptoms.”

Early intervention can help

When helping someone who has experienced violence, Rees said that it is important that friends and family reassure the victim that it “it is never acceptable to be hit, or to be treated violently or to be raped.”

Unfortunately, population studies show that women who have experienced gender-based violence are also at increased risk of experiencing it again in their lifetime.

“This might be the case because often men target women who are vulnerable, so if she has a mental disorder or trauma as a result of an early childhood adversity, she may be more likely to be targeted by men who in a sense benefit from powerlessness, inequality and fear.”

She said that warning bells that a relationship is unhealthy include controlling, jealous behaviour such as telling you who you should socialise with, or getting jealous because you are doing better than he is at university.

“Often women think that’s because he cares about me, he’s worried about me and that why he wants to know where I am all the time,”

But this type of behaviour should actually be seen as a warning of future emotional and perhaps physical abuse, Rees said.

Rees said that the reasons women don’t leave violent relationships are complex,

“She may be suffering depression. She may not have the economic resources to leave. She may worry about the children, and rightly so, because often people end up homeless, and she also may know that she’s at high risk of retaliation from the perpetrator if she leaves.”

Rees also explained that it is important for health practitioners to receive training so they can be confident to ask about domestic violence and respond appropriately.

She added that primary health care responses need to be integrated with community-based services to ensure that survivors have access to help that is sensitive to the complex impact of sexual violence.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pro-Israel Hawks Take Wing over Extension of Iran Nuclear Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:08:39 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137932 E3/EU+3 nuclear talks, Vienna - July 2014. Credit: EEAS/cc by 2.0

E3/EU+3 nuclear talks, Vienna - July 2014. Credit: EEAS/cc by 2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Buoyed by the failure of the U.S. and five other powers to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme after a week of intensive talks, pro-Israel and Republican hawks are calling for Washington to ramp up economic pressure on Tehran even while talks continue, and to give Congress a veto on any final accord.

“We have supported the economic sanctions, passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, in addition to sanctions placed on Iran by the international community,” Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte, three of the Republican’s leading hawks, said in a statement released shortly after the announcement in Vienna that the one-year-old interim accord between the so-called P5+1 and Iran will be extended until Jul. 1 while negotiations continue.Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran.

“These sanctions have had a negative impact on the Iranian economy and are one of the chief reasons the Iranians are now at the negotiating table,” the three senators went on.

“However, we believe this latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal between Iran and the United States be sent to Congress for approval. Every Member of Congress should have the opportunity to review the final deal and vote on this major foreign policy decision.”

Their statement was echoed in part by at least one of the likely Republican candidates for president in 2016.

“From the outcome of this latest round, it also appears that Iran’s leadership remains unwilling to give up their nuclear ambitions,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a favourite of pro-Israel neo-conservatives.

“None of this will change in the coming months unless we return to the pressure track that originally brought Iran to the table.”

At the same time, however, senior Democrats expressed disappointment that a more comprehensive agreement had not been reached but defended the decision to extend the Nov. 24, 2013 Joint Programme of Action (JPOA) between the P5+1 — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany – and Iran – an additional seven months, until Jul. 1.

Echoing remarks made earlier by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has held eight meetings with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, over the past week, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein noted that “Iran has lived up to its obligations under the interim agreement and its nuclear programme has not only been frozen, it has been reversed. Today, Iran is further away from acquiring a nuclear weapon than before negotiations began.

“I urge my colleagues in Washington to be patient, carefully evaluate the progress achieved thus far and provide U.S. negotiators the time and space they need to succeed. A collapse of the talks is counter to U.S. interests and would further destabilise an already-volatile region,” she said in a statement.

The back and forth in Washington came in the wake of Kerry’s statement at the conclusion of intensive talks in Vienna. Hopes for a permanent accord that would limit Iran’s nuclear activities for a period of some years in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and international sanctions against Tehran rose substantially in the course of the week only to fall sharply Sunday when Western negotiators, in particular, spoke for the first time of extending the JPOA instead of concluding a larger agreement.

Neither Kerry nor the parties, who have been exceptionally tight-lipped about the specifics of the negotiations, disclosed what had occurred to change the optimistic tenor of the talks.

Kerry insisted Monday that this latest round had made “real and substantial progress” but that “significant points of disagreement” remain unresolved.

Most analysts believe the gaps involved include the size and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme – specifically, the number of centrifuges it will be permitted to operate — and the number of years the programme will be subject to extraordinary curbs and international inspections.

Kerry appealed to Congress to not to act in a way that could sabotage the extension of the JPOA – under which Iran agreed to partially roll back its nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of some sanctions – or prospects for a successful negotiation.

“I hope they will come to see the wisdom of leaving us the equilibrium for a few months to be able to proceed without sending messages that might be misinterpreted and cause miscalculation,” he said. “We would be fools to walk away.”

The aim, he said, was to reach a broad framework accord by March and then work out the details by the Jul. 1 deadline. The JPOA was agreed last Nov. 24 but the specific details of its implementation were not worked out until the latter half of January.

Whether his appeal for patience will work in the coming months remains to be seen. Republicans, who, with a few exceptions, favoured new sanctions against Iran even after the JPOA was signed, gained nine seats in the Senate and will control both houses in the new Congress when it convenes in January.

If Congress approves new sanctions legislation, as favoured by McCain, Rubio, and other hawks, President Barack Obama could veto it. To sustain the veto, however, he have to keep at least two thirds of the 40-some Democrats in the upper chamber in line.

That could pose a problem given the continuing influence of the Israel lobby within the Democratic Party.

Indeed, the outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Robert Menendez, who reluctantly tabled a sanctions effort earlier this year, asserted Monday that the administration’s efforts “had not succeeded” and suggested that he would support a “two-track approach of diplomacy and pressure” in the coming period.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading Israel lobby group, also called Monday for “new bipartisan sanctions legislation to let Tehran know that it will face much more severe pressure if it does not clearly abandon its nuclear weapons program.”

Its message echoed that of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had reportedly personally lobbied each of the P5+1’s leaders over the weekend, and who, even before the extension was officially announced, expressed relief at the failure to reach a comprehensive accord against which he has been campaigning non-stop over the past year.

“The agreement that Iran was aiming for was very bad indeed,” he told BBC, adding that “the fact that there’s no deal now gives [world powers] the opportunity to continue …to toughen [economic pressures] against Iran.”

The Iran task force of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), co-chaired by Dennis Ross, who held the Iran portfolio at the White House during part of Obama’s first term, said, in addition to increasing economic pressure, Washington should provide weaponry to Israel that would make its threats to attack Iran more credible.

The hard-line neo-conservative Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) said Congress should not only pass new sanctions legislation, but strip Obama’s authority to waive sanctions.

“There’s no point waiting seven months for either another failure or a truly terrible deal,” ECI, which helped fund several Republican Senate campaigns this fall, said.

“Congress should act now to reimpose sanctions and re-establish U.S. red lines that will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. To that end, such legislation must limit the president’s authority to waive sanctions, an authority the president has already signaled a willingness to abuse in his desperate quest for a deal with the mullahs.”

Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran, strengthen hard-liners in Tehran who oppose accommodation and favour accelerating the nuclear programme.

“The worst scenario for U.S. interests is one in which Congress overwhelmingly passes new sanctions, Iran resumes its nuclear activities, and international unity unravels,” wrote Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on the Wall Street Journal website Monday.

“Such an outcome would force the United States to revisit the possibility of another military conflict in the Middle East.”

Such arguments, which the administration is also expected to deploy, could not only keep most Democratic senators in line, but may also persuade some Republicans worried about any new military commitment in the Middle East.

Sen. Bob Corker, who will likely chair the Foreign Relations Committee in the new Congress, issued a cautious statement Monday, suggesting that he was willing to give the administration more time. Tougher sanctions, he said, could be prepared “should negotiations fail.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com. He can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: How Ebola Could End the Cuban Embargohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-how-ebola-could-end-the-cuban-embargo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-ebola-could-end-the-cuban-embargo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-how-ebola-could-end-the-cuban-embargo/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:07:08 +0000 Arturo Lopez-Levy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137922 A technician sets up an assay for Ebola within a containment laboratory. Samples are handled in negative-pressure biological safety cabinets to provide an additional layer of protection. Photo by Dr. Randal J. Schoepp/cc by 2.0

A technician sets up an assay for Ebola within a containment laboratory. Samples are handled in negative-pressure biological safety cabinets to provide an additional layer of protection. Photo by Dr. Randal J. Schoepp/cc by 2.0

By Arturo Lopez-Levy
DENVER, Colorado, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

When was the last time in recent memory a top U.S. official praised Cuba publicly? And since when has Cuba’s leadership offered to cooperate with Americans?

It’s rare for politicians from these two countries to stray from the narratives of suspicion and intransigence that have prevented productive collaboration for over half a century.Political leadership in the White House and the Palace of Revolution could transform a fight against a common threat into joint cooperation that would not only promote the national interests of the two countries, but also advance human rights—and the right to health is a human right—throughout the developing world.

Yet that’s just what has happened in the last few weeks, as Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power spoke favourably of Cuba’s medical intervention in West Africa, and Cuban President Raul Castro and former president Fidel Castro signaled their willingness to cooperate with U.S. efforts to stem the epidemic.

As it causes devastation in West Africa and strikes fear in the United States and around the world, Ebola has few upsides. But one of them may be the opportunity to change the nature of U.S.-Cuban relations, for the public good.

Don’t squander the opportunity

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel once famously said. “And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

President Barack Obama should heed his former chief of staff’s advice and not squander the opportunity presented by the Ebola crisis. Political leadership in the White House and the Palace of Revolution could transform a fight against a common threat into joint cooperation that would not only promote the national interests of the two countries, but also advance human rights—and the right to health is a human right—throughout the developing world.

Political conditions are ripe for such turn. Americans strongly support aggressive actions against Ebola and would applaud a president who placed more value on medical cooperation and saving lives than on ideology and resentment.

In the sixth in a series of editorials spelling out the need for a change in U.S. policy towards Cuba, for example, The New York Times called on Obama to discontinue the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program—which makes it relatively simple for Cuban doctors providing medical services abroad to defect to the United States—because of its hostile nature and its negative impact on the populations receiving Cuban doctors’ support and attention in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

“It is incongruous for the United States to value the contributions of Cuban doctors who are sent by their government to assist in international crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake while working to subvert that government by making defection so easy,” the editorial board wrote. The emphasis should be on fostering Cuba’s medical contributions, not stymieing them.

As Cuba’s international health efforts become more widely known, it’s become increasingly clear how unreasonable it is for Washington to assume that all Cuban presence in the developing world is damaging to U.S. interests.

A consistent opening for bilateral cooperation with Cuba by governmental health institutions, the private sector, and foundations based in the United States can trigger positive synergies to update U.S. policy towards Havana. It will also send a friendlier signal for economic reform and political liberalisation in Cuba.

The whole world has something to gain

The potential for cooperation between Cuba and the United States goes far beyond preventing and defeating Ebola. New pandemics in the near future could endanger the national security, economy, and public health of other countries—killing thousands, preventing travel and trade, and choking the current open liberal order by encouraging xenophobic hysteria. At this dramatic time, the White House needs to think with clarity and creativity.

As the leading nation in the Western Hemisphere, the United States should propose the creation of a comprehensive continental health cooperation and crisis response strategy at the next Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Panama City in April 2015. As numerous Latin American countries have already asserted, Cuba must be included at the summit.

Havana has developed extensive medical expertise at home and abroad, with more than 50,000 doctors and health personnel serving in 66 countries. Preventive measures, early detection, strict infection controls, and natural disaster crisis response coordination are essential parts of the Cuban approach to nipping pandemics in the bud.

The lack of some of these components in already-collapsed health systems explains the failures of governance that inflamed the impact of Ebola in West Africa.

As a senator and presidential candidate, Obama was one of the loudest critics of looking at Cuba through the glasses of the Cold War. As president, it isn’t enough for him to just retune the same embargo policy implemented by his predecessors. He must adjust the U.S. official narrative about Post-Fidel Cuba: It is not a threat to the United States but a country in transition to a mixed economy, and a positive force for global health.

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. This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

The author can be contacted at Alopezca@du.edu or on Twitter at @turylevy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Missing in Child Rights Conventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-s-missing-in-child-rights-convention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-missing-in-child-rights-convention http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-s-missing-in-child-rights-convention/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 16:08:24 +0000 Kul Chandra Gautam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137823 Children in America lag behind most industrialised nations on key child indicators. Credit: Astrid Westvang/cc by 2.0

Children in America lag behind most industrialised nations on key child indicators. Credit: Astrid Westvang/cc by 2.0

By Kul Chandra Gautam
KATHMANDU, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

On Nov. 20, the whole world will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the world’s most universally ratified human rights treaty, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Sadly, the United States of America won’t be at the party or will simply be watching from the sidelines.

The U.S. remains the odd man – the odd country – out, accompanied only by Somalia and South Sudan in having failed to ratify this landmark instrument of international law.

UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

The absence of Somalia and South Sudan is understandable as these are among the world’s most fragile, failed or failing states. But one would expect the U.S. which claims to be a great champion of human rights in the world to be at the front and centre of this celebration, not missing in action.

One hundred ninety-four nations – including all of America’s closest allies — have ratified the CRC. It baffles non-Americans, and even many Americans, as to why the U.S. is reluctant to ratify this Convention.

This example of negative “American exceptionalism” is illogical and perverse. The Convention upholds the very same principles that underpin American democracy. It says that all children, everywhere, have the same human rights to survive and thrive, to learn and contribute.

It obligates states that embrace it to do all that is humanly possible to ensure children’s wellbeing, dignity and protection. It is supportive of parents and respectful of cultures.

Many American scholars and experts were actively involved in drafting the CRC, and the U.S. government played a leadership role in negotiating and shaping it. But most U.S. citizens remain unaware of this great human rights treaty which their country helped create.

The CRC recognises every child’s right to develop physically, mentally and socially to his or her fullest potential, to be protected from abuse, discrimination, exploitation and violence; to express his or her views and to participate in decisions affecting his or her future.The experience of other highly developed countries that have ratified the Convention indicates that CRC can be relevant and beneficial for all countries - rich and advanced as well as poor and underdeveloped.

It reaffirms the primary role of parents and the family in raising children. It seeks to emulate key provisions on child rights and well-being under the U.S. Constitution and laws.

Some opponents of the CRC in America have argued that it would impose on this country all kinds of terrible obligations that may be harmful to America and its children and families.

These range from how possible U.N. interference might compromise the sovereignty of the U.S. and undermine its Constitution; to how the CRC might weaken American families and role of parents in bringing up their children; how it might bring about a culture of permissiveness, including abortion on demand, and unrestricted access to pornography; and how it might empower children to sue their parents and disobey their guidance.

Such concerns are not unique to America. Many groups in other countries have expressed similar fears from time to time. But in 25 years of experience in over a hundred countries, rich and poor, with liberal as well as conservative governments, such concerns have proven to be unfounded, exaggerated and hypothetical.

Some Americans argue that as the U.S. has a great Constitution and laws that are already strong and often superior to what is contained in the CRC, it is unnecessary and undesirable to ratify the Convention as it might actually lower the standards of child protection rather than strengthening them.

But the experience of other highly developed countries that have ratified the Convention indicates that CRC can be relevant and beneficial for all countries – rich and advanced as well as poor and underdeveloped.

In its website, the U.S. Coalition for Ratification of CRC has listed some of the common myths and real truths regarding worries about the possible negative impact of CRC on American children and families.

America is, of course, a nation of extraordinary wealth. Most children in this country are beneficiaries of this affluence. They live in comfortable homes and safe neighbourhoods; have a decent standard of living, health, education and social welfare. But there is room for some humility.

Studies by the Children’s Defense Fund, UNICEF, and others show that compared to the wealth of the U.S., a shocking number of children continue to lack the basics of life. Children in America lag behind most industrialised nations on key child indicators.

The U.S. is towards the bottom of the league in relative child poverty, in the gap between rich and poor, teen birth rates, low birth weight, infant mortality, child victims of gun violence, and the number of minors in jail.

For many people outside the U.S., it is incomprehensible how the richest nation on earth lets every sixth child live in (relative) poverty; how its laws allow a child to be killed by guns every three hours; or how so many children and families can live without basic health insurance.

It is equally difficult to understand why a nation that can afford two billion dollars a day in military spending, and a trillion dollar bail-out package to huge Wall Street banks and corporate giants that brought its economy to its knees, cannot rescue its children from sickness, illiteracy, violent crimes and poverty.

Now, ratifying the CRC will not by itself dramatically change the situation of America’s children. But it would help establish a critical national framework to formulate clear goals and targets which the federal and state governments, private organisations, and individuals can use to shape policies and programmes to better meet the needs of children and their families.

Internationally, ratification of the CRC would help enhance U.S. standing as a global leader in human rights. As a party to the Convention, the U.S. would be eligible to participate in the Committee on the Rights of the Child (the international body that monitors the CRC’s implementation), and work toward strengthening further progress for children in all countries.

To many people in the world, the United States of America is not just a country, but it represents an ideal – the ideal of democracy, of the rule of law, respect for human rights, and a certain global moral leadership.

That ideal image is often shattered and the reputation of the U.S. tarnished around the world whenever the U.S. government chooses to follow an arrogant, unilateralist approach; disparaging its allies and the United Nations; withdrawing its support for the International Criminal Court, abandoning its commitments under the Geneva Conventions, even condoning torture – all in the name of national security and fighting terrorism.

Still, many friends of America see these as aberrations and continue to be inspired by the ideals of democracy and human rights on which this country was founded.

On behalf of President Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright signed the CRC in 1995, signaling the U.S. government’s intention to move toward ratification. But the George W Bush administration took no further action.

Even President Obama, whose outlook and vision most closely match the spirit of the Convention, has done nothing tangible towards getting the treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate.

The global celebration of CRC@25 is a fitting opportunity for President Obama to make good on the promise he made as a presidential candidate in 2008 while speaking at Waldon University in Minnesota: “It is embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. It is important that the U.S. return to its position as a respected global leader and promoter of human rights. I will review this and other treaties to ensure that the U.S. resumes its global leadership in human rights.”

One doesn’t have to be much of a political analyst to understand that following the recent elections to the U.S. Congress, ratification of the CRC doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell in the current political climate in Washington.

But President Obama has often shown a willingness to surmount political deadlocks by taking what actions he is authorised by law to take on his own, when he deems the national interest to be at stake.

One such measure that is in the president’s power to enact would be to immediately order the State Department to undertake a thorough review of the CRC, so that it is ready for submission to the Senate for ratification as soon as the situation becomes more favourable.

Some 109 CEOs and leaders of prominent American child welfare organisations and faith-based groups have recently made an impassioned joint appeal to Obama to order such a review.

In this world where kids too often come last, the Convention serves as a reminder that they must come first. It is a moral compass, a framework of accountability against which all societies can assess their treatment of the new generations.

In many parts of the world, the 20th of November is celebrated as universal children’s day. Many faith-based organisations also celebrate it as a “World Day of Prayer and Action for Children”.

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the CRC this year, many of us will be praying and hoping that the world’s most powerful and influential state, the United States of America, will soon join the international community in embracing the CRC as a bulwark for the defence of children’s rights and a beacon of hope for the world’s children.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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A Game-Changing Week on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/a-game-changing-week-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-game-changing-week-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/a-game-changing-week-on-climate-change/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 00:55:41 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137813 UN Climate Wall at COP 15, Copenhagen. Credit: Troels Dejgaard Hansen/cc by 2.0

UN Climate Wall at COP 15, Copenhagen. Credit: Troels Dejgaard Hansen/cc by 2.0

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

- In recent days, two major developments have injected new life into international action on climate change.

At the G20 summit in Australia, the United States pledged 3 billion dollars and Japan pledged 1.5 billion dollars to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), bringing total donations up to 7.5 billion so far. The GCF, established through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, will distribute money to support developing countries in mitigating and adapting to climate change."While the figures might sound big, they pale in comparison to the actual needs on the ground and to what developed countries spend in other areas – for instance, the U.S. spends tens of billions of dollars every year on fossil fuel subsidies.” -- Brandon Wu of ActionAid USA

The new commitments to the GCF came on the heels of a landmark joint announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, creating ambitious new targets for domestic carbon emissions reduction.

The United States will aim to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions between 26 and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China will aim to reach peak carbon emissions around the year 2030 and decrease its emissions thereafter.

The two surprising announcements “really send a strong signal that both developed and developing countries are serious about getting to an ambitious climate agreement in 2015,” said Alex Doukas, a climate finance expert at the World Resources Institute, a Washington, DC think tank.

The GCF aims to be the central hub for international climate finance in the coming years. At an October meeting in Barbados, the basic practices of the GCF were firmly established and it was opened to funding contributions.

The 7.5 billion dollars that have been committed by 13 countries to the GCF bring it three quarters of the way to its initial 10-billion-dollar goal, to be distributed over the next few years. The gap may be closed on Nov. 20 at a pledging conference in Berlin. Several more countries are expected to announce their contributions, including the United Kingdom and Canada.

While the fund is primarily designed to aid developing countries, it has “both developed and developing country contributors,” Doukas told IPS. “Mexico and South Korea have already pledged resources, and other countries, including Colombia and Peru, that are not necessarily traditional contributors have indicated that they are going to step up as well.”

The decision-making board of the GCF is split evenly between developed and developing country constituencies.

“For a major, multilateral climate fund, I would say that the governance is much more balanced than previously,” Doukas said. “That’s one of the reasons for the creation of the Green Climate Fund, especially from the perspective of developing countries.”

As IPS has previously noted, the redistributive nature of the GCF acknowledges that the developing countries least responsible for climate change will often face the most severe consequences.

Advocates hope that the United States’ and Japan’s recent contributions will pave the way for more pledges on November 20th and a more robust climate finance system in general.

According to Jan Kowalzig, a climate finance expert at Oxfam Germany, the unofficial 10-billion-dollar goal for the GCF was set by developed countries, but developing countries have asked for at least 15 billion dollars.

The 10-billion-dollar goal is “an absolute minimum floor for what is needed in this initial phase,” he told IPS.

Brandon Wu, a senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA and one of two civil society representatives on the GCF Board, asserts that the climate finance efforts will soon need to be scaled up drastically.

“While the figures might sound big, they pale in comparison to the actual needs on the ground and to what developed countries spend in other areas – for instance, the US spends tens of billions of dollars every year on fossil fuel subsidies,” he told IPS.

The GCF may run into problems if countries attach caveats to their contributions, specifying exactly what types of activities they can be used for.

“Such strings are highly problematic as they run against the consensual spirit of the GCF board operations,” Kowalzig said.

He also warned that some of the contributions may come in the form of loans which need to be paid back instead of from grants.

After the pledging phase, much work remains to be done to establish a global climate finance roadmap towards 2020.

“The Green Climate Fund can and should play a major role,” Kowalzig said, “but the pledges, as important and welcome as they are, are only one component of what developed countries have promised to deliver.”

The other major development of the past week, Obama and Xi’s carbon emissions reduction announcement, also deserves both praise and scrutiny.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made clear the historic nature of the agreement.

“Two countries regarded for 20 years as the leaders of opposing camps in climate negotiations have come together to find common ground, determined to make lasting progress on an unprecedented global challenge,” he wrote.

While Barack Obama may be committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, Congress has expressed reservations. Mitch McConnell, soon to be the Senate majority leader, has called the plan “unrealistic” and complained that it would increase electricity prices and eliminate jobs.

On the Chinese side, Xi’s willingness to act on climate change and peak carbon emissions by 2030 was a substantial transformation from only a few years ago.

Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, said in a press release that China’s announcement was “a major development,” but noted that a few years difference in when peak emissions occur could have a huge impact on climate change.

“Analysis shows that China’s emissions should peak before 2030 to limit the worst consequences of climate change,” he said.

Researchers have said that China’s emissions would have peaked in the 2030s anyway, and that a more ambitious goal of 2025 could have been possible.

Still, the agreement indicates a new willingness of the world’s number one and number two biggest carbon emitters to work together constructively, and raises hopes for successful negotiations in December’s COP20 climate change conference in Lima, Peru.

Héla Cheikhrouhou, executive director of the GCF, was unapologetically enthusiastic about the new momentum built in recent days.

“This week’s announcements will be a legacy of U.S. President Obama,” she announced. “It will be seen by generations to come as the game-changing moment that started a scaling-up of global action on climate change, and that enabled the global agreement.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Iranians Keep Hope Alive for Final Nuclear Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/iranians-keep-hope-alive-for-final-nuclear-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iranians-keep-hope-alive-for-final-nuclear-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/iranians-keep-hope-alive-for-final-nuclear-deal/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 11:06:19 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137807 With both countries' flags placed side by side, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits across from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna, Austria, on Jul. 13, 2014, before beginning a bilateral meeting focused on Iran's nuclear programme. Credit: State Department

With both countries' flags placed side by side, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits across from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna, Austria, on Jul. 13, 2014, before beginning a bilateral meeting focused on Iran's nuclear programme. Credit: State Department

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

In the United States, the negotiations aimed at a final deal between world powers and Iran over its nuclear programme—in a crucial phase this week—are far from the minds of average people. But for many Iranians, the talks hold the promise of a better future.

“I really hope for a fair agreement,” Ahoora Rostamian, a 30-year-old financial engineer living in the Iranian city of Isfahan, told IPS in a telephone interview.“I have seen broad support and trust for [lead Iranian negotiator] Javad Zarif among the people…he may well be the most popular politician in Iran.” -- Adnan Tabatabai

“It is very important both economically and politically…(A)lmost all sectors of industry are affected by the sanctions, and only the people, not the government, are paying the price,” he said.

From the capital city of Tehran, Mohammad Shirkavand, who expects a final deal to be signed by the Nov. 24 deadline, said it would “alleviate tensions and allow Westerners to get to know the real Iran.”

“Iran has been developing even under a massive sanctions regime, but when there is a final nuclear deal, the situation will be much better,” said the medical engineer and tour guide.

“People are indeed very hopeful,” Adnan Tabatabai, a Berlin-based analyst who regularly travels to Iran, told IPS. “I have seen broad support and trust for [lead Iranian negotiator] Javad Zarif among the people…he may well be the most popular politician in Iran.”

Iran and the P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China, plus Germany) began a marathon round of meetings Nov. 18 in Vienna aimed at achieving a final deal by next Monday.

That would mark the one-year anniversary of the signing in Geneva of the interim Joint Plan of Action, which halted Iran’s nuclear programme from further expansion in exchange for moderate sanctions relief.

All of the officials involved in the negotiation have insisted that a comprehensive agreement remains possible by the self-imposed deadline.

But three days of talks last week in Oman—which hosted initially the secret U.S.-Iran meetings in March 2013 that paved the way for unprecedented levels of bilateral exchanges—concluded without a breakthrough.

“The Iranian team went back to Tehran with new ideas from Oman and will have a chance to respond to them in Vienna,” Kelsey Davenport, the director for nonproliferation policy at the Washington-based Arms Control Association, told IPS.

“There’s still a week left, and that’s a lot of time on the diplomatic clock,” said Davenport, who closely monitors Iran’s nuclear programme. “The negotiators are committed to reaching a deal by the deadline, and it’s still possible.”

The details of the negotiations remain secret, but leaked comments to the press suggest that while the negotiators are close to a deal, they remain stuck on the size and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme as well as the terms of the sanctions relief that would result from a final deal.

Iran wants to maintain enough centrifuges and other nuclear infrastructure to be self-reliant and reach industrial-scale production for what they insist is a civil nuclear programme by 2021. But the U.S. and its allies want Iran to significantly scale back its current operations.

The failure to sign a deal so far has left some in Iran feeling hopeless—though not about their negotiating team’s ability to push for the best deal.

“I am not very optimistic about a final deal because if the P5+1 were seriously determined to reach a deal they could have achieved that by now,” said Sadeghi, a 29-year-old student also from Isfahan. “They have previously proven that what they’re seeking is halting Iran’s peaceful nuclear activity, not a genuine deal.”

Back in Tehran, Sobhan Hassanvand, a journalist who closely monitors the talks for Shargh, a reformist newspaper, told IPS he expects at least a partial deal by the end of the month.

“On both sides there are rational people who want the deal… Both sides have shown some flexibility, and tried to fight hardliners,” he said.

“They have gotten this far, and the final steps can be breathtaking…I am hopeful and optimistic,” added Hassanvand.

The negotiating teams from both the U.S. and Iran, led by Acting Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, respectively, face tough domestic opposition, with powerful adversaries working hard to get their demands onto the negotiating table.

Before the end of this week, committees in the U.S. House and Senate—both of which will be controlled by Republicans as of January—will hold a series of hearings focused on the alleged dangers of a “bad deal”.

Activist groups—both for and against diplomacy with Iran—have also scheduled briefings for Congressional staffers and reporters in the run-up to Nov. 24.

“There are some members of Congress who oppose a diplomatic solution with Iran,” Davenport told IPS. “Many of them are pushing for more stringent sanctions, but that will only drive Iran away from table and lead both sides down the path of escalation.

“But the majority of Congress needs to consider the alternative to a diplomatic resolution…if we don’t achieve a deal we could easily go down the path of another war in the Middle East,” she said.

U.S. President Barack Obama has also received strong criticism for allegedly sending a secret letter last month to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, that “appeared aimed at buttressing the campaign against the Islamic State and nudging Iran’s religious leader closer to a nuclear deal,” according to a Nov. 6 report in the Wall Street Journal.

Though the content of the reported letter has not been officially revealed, some U.S. Republican and hawkish Democratic politicians, as well as Israeli officials, described it as evidence of Obama’s desperation for a deal, particularly in light of the need for Iran’s cooperation in Washington’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile in Iran, the country’s ultimate decision-maker, Ayatollah Khamenei, once again expressed support last week for the country’s negotiating team through speeches and his Twitter account.

But he has also consistently expressed doubt about the Obama administration’s sincerity and its ability to negotiate for a fair deal, insisting that Washington is ruled by the Israeli government, which has made no secret of its opposition to Obama’s approach.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has also been the target of political grumblings by domestic powerbrokers for his handling of the nuclear issue. But last week saw many of his critics directing their distrust at the United States.

“In the nuclear debate, our key point is that we have complete trust with respect to the negotiating team, but this point must not be missed, that our opposing side is a fraud and a liar,” said Mohammad Hossein Nejatand, a commander of the revolutionary guards, on Nov. 14.

“Instead of writing letters, Obama should demonstrate his goodwill,” said Ayatollah Movahedi-Kermani during Friday prayers in Tehran.

Iranians meanwhile appear generally confident about their negotiating team’s strategy.

“They are doing a good job…The problem is (that) the other side is not looking for a “deal,” but for Iran to give up,” said Sadeghi.

Tabatabai said Iranians were more likely to blame the U.S. than their own government if no deal is concluded.

“In that case people may conclude that whether Iran’s foreign policy is provocative or reconciliatory, the isolation and demonisation of their country will prevail,” he said.

“This is exactly the main argument of opponents of a deal in Tehran,” he added. “In their view, hostility towards Iran is a given—and if it’s not channeled through the nuclear file, another issue will be used to maintain enmity with Iran.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Why Israel Opposes a Final Nuclear Deal with Iran and What to Do About Ithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-why-israel-opposes-a-final-nuclear-deal-with-iran-and-what-to-do-about-it/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-israel-opposes-a-final-nuclear-deal-with-iran-and-what-to-do-about-it http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-why-israel-opposes-a-final-nuclear-deal-with-iran-and-what-to-do-about-it/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 02:03:56 +0000 Robert E. Hunter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137800

Robert E. Hunter, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, was director of Middle East Affairs on the National Security Council Staff in the Carter administration and in 2011-12 was director of Transatlantic Security Studies at the National Defense University. Read his work on IPS’s foreign policy blog, LobeLog.

By Robert E. Hunter
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

Nov. 24 is the deadline for six world powers and Iran to reach a final deal over its nuclear programme. If there is no deal, then the talks are likely to be extended, not abandoned.

But as I learned from more than three decades’ work on Middle East issues, in and out of the U.S. government, success also depends on Israel no longer believing that it needs a regional enemy shared in common with the United States to ensure Washington’s commitment to its security.

U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they walk across the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Mar. 20, 2013. Credit: White House Photo, Pete Souza

U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they walk across the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Mar. 20, 2013. Credit: White House Photo, Pete Souza

Much is at stake in the negotiations with Iran in Vienna, notably the potential removal of the risk of war over its nuclear programme and the removal of any legitimate basis for Israel’s fear that it could become the target of an Iranian bomb.

Success could also begin Iran’s reintegration into the international community, ending its lengthy quarantine. If President Barack Obama and his national security officials get their way, including the Pentagon—hardly a group of softies—a comprehensive final accord would be a good deal for U.S. national security and, in the American analysis, for Israel’s security as well.

Yet more is at issue for Israel, and for the Persian Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. They want to keep Iran in purdah.

Indeed, since the Iranian Revolution ran out of steam outside its borders, the essential questions about the challenge Iran poses have been the following: Will it be able to compete for power and position in the region, and, how can Iran’s competition be dealt with?

The first response, led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is to decry whatever might be agreed to in the talks, no matter how objectively good the results would be for everyone’s security. He has the Saudis and other Arab states as silent partners.

Between them, the Israeli and oil lobbies command a lot of attention in the U.S. Congress, a large part of whose members would otherwise accept that President Obama’s standard for an agreement meets the tests of both U.S. security and the security of its partners in the Middle East.

But a large fraction of Congress is no more willing to take on these two potent lobbies than the National Rifle Association.

Netanyahu will also do all he can to prevent the relaxation of any of the sanctions imposed on Iran. But even if he and his U.S. supporters succeed on Capitol Hill, President Obama can on his own suspend some of those sanctions—though exactly how much is being debated.

The U.S. does not have the last word on sanctions, however. The moment there is a final agreement, the floodgates of economic trade and investment with Iran will open. Europeans, in particular, are lined up with their order books, like Americans in 1889 who awaited the starter’s pistol to begin the Oklahoma land rush.

In response, U.S. private industry will ride up Capitol Hill to demand the relaxation of U.S.-mandated sanctions. Meanwhile, the sighs of relief resounding throughout the world will begin changing the international political climate concerning Iran.

Yet America’s concerns will not cease. While the U.S. and Iran have similar interests in opposing the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), and in wanting to see Afghanistan free from reconquest by of the Taliban, they are still far apart on other matters, notably the Assad regime in Syria, as well as Hezbollah and Hamas.

President Obama will also have an immediate problem in reassuring Israel and Gulf Arab states that American commitments to their security are sincere. To be sure, absent an Iranian nuclear weapon, there is no real Iranian military threat and all the Western weapons pumped into the Persian Gulf are thus essentially useless.

Iran’s real challenges emanate from its dynamic domestic economy, a highly educated, entrepreneurial culture that is matched in the region only by Israelis and Palestinians, and a good deal of cultural appeal even beyond Shi’a communities.

Obama thus faces a special problem in reassuring Israel, a problem that goes back decades. When the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty was signed in 1979, the risks of a major Arab attack on Israel sank virtually to zero. So, too, did the risk of an Arab-Israeli conflict escalating to the level of a U.S.-Soviet confrontation. All at once, U.S. and Israeli strategic concerns were no longer obviously linked.

Thus as soon as Israel withdrew from the Sinai in May 1979, then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin started searching for an alternative basis for linking American and Israeli strategic interests.

For him and for many other Israelis, then and now, it is not enough that the American people are firmly committed to Israel’s security for what could be called “sentimental” reasons: bonds of history (especially memories of the Holocaust), culture, religion, and the values of Western democracy.

But such “sentiment” is the strongest motivation for all U.S. commitments, a far stronger glue than strategic calculations that can and often do change, a fact that could be testified to by the people of South Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Yet for Begin and others, there had to be at least a strong similarity of strategic interests. Thus, in a meeting with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance the day after Egypt retook possession of the Sinai, Begin complained that the US had cancelled its “strategic dialogue” with Israel. Vance tasked me, as the National Security Council staff representative on his travelling team, to find out “what the heck Begin is talking about.”

I phoned Washington and got the skinny: the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment had been conducting a low-level dialogue with some Israeli military officers. Proving to be of little value, it was stopped.

The reason for Begin’s outburst thus became clear: in the absence of the strategic tie with the United States that had been provided by the conflict with Egypt, Israel needed something else, in effect, a common enemy.

That’s why many Israeli political stakeholders were ambivalent about the George W. Bush administration’s ambitions to topple Iraq’s Saddam Hussein: with his overthrow, a potential though remote threat to Israel would be removed, but so would the perception of a common enemy. Since Saddam’s ousting, Iran has gained even more importance for Israel as a means of linking Jerusalem’s strategic perceptions with those of Washington.

By the same political logic, Israel has always asserted that it is a strategic asset for the United States. As part of recognising Israel’s psychological needs, no U.S. official ever publicly challenges that Israeli assertion regardless of what they think in private or however much damage the U.S. might suffer politically in the region because of Israeli activities, including the building of illegal settlements in the West Bank.

So what must Obama do in order to eliminate the risk of an Iranian nuclear weapon, while also reassuring Israel of US fealty? On one side, to be able to honour an agreement with Iran, Obama has to undercut Netanyahu’s efforts with Congress to prevent any sanctions relief.

On the other side, he could reassure Israel through the classic means of buttressing the flow of arms, including the anti-missile capabilities of the Iron Dome that were so useful to Israel during the recent fighting in Gaza.

Israel would want even closer strategic cooperation with the U.S., including consultations on the full range of U.S. thinking and planning on all relevant issues in the Middle East. Israel (at least Netanyahu) would also want any notion of further negotiations with the Palestinians, and the relaxation of economic pressures on Gaza, put into the deep freeze—where, in effect, they already are.

Israel has an inherent, sovereign right to defend itself and to make, for and by itself, calculations about what that means. (The country is not unified, however: a surprising number of former leaders of the Israeli military and security agencies have publicly differed with Netanyahu’s pessimistic assessments of the Iranian threat).

As Israel’s only real friend in the world, the United States continues to have an obligation, within reason, to reassure Israel about its security and safety.

For Obama, this reassurance to Israel is a price worth paying in the event of a deal, which would be at least one step in trying to build security and stability in an increasingly turbulent Middle East. But that can only happen if Israel refrains from obstructing Obama’s effort to make everyone, including Israel, more secure.

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.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Proposes Major Debt Relief for Ebola-Hit Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-s-proposes-major-debt-relief-for-ebola-hit-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-proposes-major-debt-relief-for-ebola-hit-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-s-proposes-major-debt-relief-for-ebola-hit-countries/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 22:16:07 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137752 An Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on the day of a visit from Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER). Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

An Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on the day of a visit from Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER). Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

The United States proposed Tuesday that the international community write off 100 million dollars in debt owed by West African countries hit hardest by the current Ebola outbreak. The money would be re-invested in health and other public programming.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will be detailing the proposal later this week to a summit of finance ministers from the Group of 20 (G20) industrialised countries. If the idea gains traction among G20 states, that support should be enough to approve the measure through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where the United States is the largest voting member."The plan is for that money to be re-invested in social infrastructure, including hospitals and schools … to deal with the short-term problem of Ebola but also the long-term failure of the health systems that allowed for this outbreak.” -- Jubilee USA’s executive director Eric LeCompte

“The International Monetary Fund has already played a critical role as a first responder, providing economic support to countries hardest hit by Ebola,” Lew said in a statement to IPS.

“Today we are asking the IMF to expand that support by providing debt relief for Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. IMF debt relief will promote economic sustainability in the worst hit countries by freeing up resources for both immediate needs and longer-term recovery efforts.”

These three countries together owe the IMF some 370 million dollars, according to the U.S. Treasury, with 55 million dollars due in the coming two years. Yet there are already widespread fears over the devastating financial ramifications of Ebola on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, in addition to the epidemic’s horrendous social impact.

Last month, the World Health Organisation warned that the virus now threatens “potential state failure” in these countries. The World Bank, meanwhile, estimates that the virus, which has already killed more than 5,000 people and infected more than 14,000, could cost West African countries some 33 billion dollars in gross domestic product.

Of course, much of the multilateral machinery is often too cumbersome to respond to a fast-moving viral outbreak. Yet there is reason to believe that the U.S. plan could have both immediate and long-term impacts.

That’s because the plan would see the IMF tap a unique fund set up in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which facilitated the cancellation of nearly 270 million dollars of Haitian debt to the IMF. Called the Post-Catastrophe Debt Relief (PCDR) Trust, it is aimed specifically at responding to major natural disasters in the world’s poorest countries.

Originally, the PCDR Trust was capitalised with more than 420 million dollars. Today, a U.S. Treasury spokesperson told IPS, the trust has some 150 million dollars in it – money that would be available almost immediately.

“Our proposal is for the IMF to provide debt relief for these Ebola-affected nations from this trust,” the spokesperson said. “The U.S. would like to see around 100 million dollars put toward this effort, however the precise amount will need to be determined in consultations with the IMF and its membership.”

The IMF, meanwhile, says it is preparing to consider the proposal. In September the Washington-based agency made available 130 million dollars in immediate support to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“We are very glad that some donors have expressed an interest in increasing support for the Ebola-affected countries. We are reaching out to all donors to see how we might be able to take this forward … using all the tools available to us,” an IMF spokesperson told IPS.

“[Debt relief] decisions are made according to the merits of the particular case and this would be approached in the same way. We would expect the Board to be briefed soon on this topic.”

Ebola’s “natural disaster”

For development and anti-poverty advocates, debt obligations on the part of poor countries constitute a key obstacle to a government’s ability to respond to critical social needs, both in the short and long term.

In the West African epicentre of the current Ebola outbreak, many analysts have held chronic low national health spending directly responsible for allowing the epidemic to spiral out of control. And when looking at feeble public sector spending, it is impossible not to take into account often crushing debt burdens.

For instance, Guinea spent a little more than 100 million dollars on public health in 2012 but paid nearly 150 million dollars that same year on internationally held debt, according to World Bank figures provided by Jubilee USA, an anti-debt advocacy network that has spearheaded the push for the United States to make the current proposal.

“As bad as Ebola has been, some of these countries have far greater challenges with deaths from malaria than from Ebola,” Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA’s executive director, told IPS.

“The amount is incredibly important because it cancels a significant portion of the debt completely. And the plan is for that money to be re-invested in social infrastructure, including hospitals and schools … to deal with the short-term problem of Ebola but also the long-term failure of the health systems that allowed for this outbreak.”

LeCompte was also involved in the creation of the Post-Catastrophe Debt Relief Trust, in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake. His office has advocated for the fund’s monies to be used since then – for instance, to react to flooding in Pakistan and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

But he says these and other proposals have been rejected by the IMF’s membership, on the rationale that these countries were developed enough to be able to mobilise financing in other ways. (The IMF says PCDR funds are for response to “the most catastrophic of natural disasters” in “low-income countries”, when a third of a country’s population has been affected and a quarter of its production capacity destroyed.)

Not only are Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone among the poorest countries in the world, but the Ebola outbreak there has a potentially direct impact on the rest of the globe.

“This is a very clear opportunity to point to the 150 million dollars left in that fund and to note that Ebola is every bit the same as the Haitian earthquake in terms of being a regional calamity,” LeCompte says.

“The difference is that this is also a long-term investment in the very problems that allow Ebola to spread. So we’d be not only addressing the current issue, but also the next disease outbreak in that region.”

It is unclear whether there is a mechanism in place to top up the PCDR Trust in the future. The IMF states that “Replenishment of the Trust will rely on donor contributions, as necessary.”

But for his part, LeCompte says the fund has the potential to fill a significant gap: offering a pot of money, immediately available, that could be quickly mobilised to deal with true crises afflicting the world’s poorest countries, from hurricanes to major financial defaults.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Polarised Congress Reflects Divided U.S. Publichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/polarised-congress-reflects-divided-u-s-public/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=polarised-congress-reflects-divided-u-s-public http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/polarised-congress-reflects-divided-u-s-public/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2014 14:26:55 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137721 The U.S. Capitol Building undergoes a restoration project to repair more than 1,000 cracks that have appeared in the dome. Credit: Architect of the Capitol/cc by 2.0

The U.S. Capitol Building undergoes a restoration project to repair more than 1,000 cracks that have appeared in the dome. Credit: Architect of the Capitol/cc by 2.0

By Joel Jaeger
NEW YORK, Nov 12 2014 (IPS)

Less than 15 percent of U.S. citizens approve of the job that Congress is doing, a 40-year low, and few expect last week’s congressional elections to herald a new era of political cooperation.

However, the polarised, gridlocked Congress reflects the increasing divisions in U.S. society itself.

“The share of Americans who are consistently liberal or consistently conservative is much greater today than it has been in the past,” said Jocelyn Kiley, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank that conducts public opinion polling.

“About 20 percent of the public is across-the-board either liberal or conservative, and that’s about double what it was 20 years ago,” she told IPS.

Essentially, the Pew Research Center found that U.S. citizens are becoming more ideologically consistent.

Democrats vs. Republicans

Democrats

Left-leaning – Liberal

More likely to support:
-Federal funding for education and healthcare
-Economic regulation
-Redistribution of wealth
-Gay marriage
-Abortion rights
-Decreased military spending
-Minimum wage increases
-Environmental protection

Republicans
Right-leaning – Conservative

More likely to support:
-Limited government
-The free market
-Individual liberty
-Gun rights
-Strong national security
-Increased military spending
-Free trade
-Oil-drilling

This means that if a person holds a liberal viewpoint on one particular issue, it is safer to assume that he or she also holds a liberal standpoint on other issues as well. Likewise with conservatives.

It’s important to note that U.S. citizens’ political views are not becoming more extreme; they are simply lining up in two consistent camps more so than in the past, a phenomenon that has been called sorting.

In the past, each party had some appeal to the other side. In the mid-1900s, liberal Republicans existed in the Northeast, and conservative Democrats existed in the South. No longer.  Today, there is little to no overlap between the parties.

According to the Pew Research study, “today, 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median (middle) Democrat, compared with 64% twenty years ago. And 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican, up from 70% in 1994.”

Because of sorting, hostility between liberals and conservatives has risen.

When consistent partisans cannot think of a single issue on which they agree with the other side, they find it much harder to relate.

Pew Research found that, “In each party, the share with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994. Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies ‘are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.’”

Currently, 43 percent of those who voted for Republicans and 38 percent of those who voted for Democrats view the opposite party in strongly negative terms.

Partisan animosity has even expanded to aspects of life usually seen as apolitical.

Thirty percent of across-the-board conservatives and 23 percent of across-the-board liberals say they would be unhappy if a family member married someone from the other party.

When it comes to the news media, liberals and conservatives live in different worlds. Another study, Political Polarization and Media Habits, found that liberals tend to trust a variety of news sources, while conservatives distrust most news sources and orient around one single media outlet.

Consistent liberals were likely to name CNN, NPR, MSNBC or the New York Times as their main news source, but no single outlet predominated. On the other hand, 47 percent of consistent conservatives named Fox News as their main news source. No other outlet came close.

On social media too, partisans find themselves in ideological echo chambers.

When on Facebook, conservatives are “more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions that are in line with their own views,” while liberals “are more likely than those in other ideological groups to block or ‘defriend’ someone on a social network – as well as to end a personal friendship – because of politics,” according to the study.

Despite concerns over polarisation, U.S. politics does still contain a moderate centre.

As Kiley puts it, “There are still many, many Americas who are not ideological down-the-line liberals or down-the-line conservatives.”

So where are these centrists? Not participating in politics, usually.

Kiley explains what is known as the political activism gap: the more consistent a person’s political views, the more likely he or she is to be politically engaged.

“Fully 78 percent of people with consistently conservative views say they always vote, 58 percent of people with consistently liberal views say they always vote, but that number is closer to about 40 percent among people who have about an equal mix of liberal and conservative positions,” she said.

The political activism gap applies beyond just voting too. Consistent partisans donate to campaigns, volunteer for political causes, and write letters to public officials at a higher rate than their more moderate peers.

As a result, government policymakers miss out on the voices in the centre.

Combine ideological sorting, increased partisan animosity, media isolation and the political activism gap, and you have a recipe for government gridlock.

Congress has not been this polarised since the late 1800s, during reconstruction after the U.S. Civil War.

“Sorting makes it more difficult to form cross-party coalitions,” Morris Fiorina, a Stanford political scientist, told IPS via email. “Each party has a very distinct base, so members have no electoral reason to reach across party lines and may well incur a penalty.”

In next year’s new session of Congress, many commentators do not believe there will be much progress.

“Whether gridlock will continue depends on how a Republican congressional majority chooses to behave,” Fiorina said. “If they believe that winning the presidency in 2016 requires that they demonstrate a capacity to govern responsibly, there is some possibility for cutting deals with Obama.  But they may not be able to control their hard-right wings.”

Even if Congress does somehow find a way to pass any significant legislation in the new session, it can expect to encounter a deeply divided public reaction.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Massachussetts Schools Welcome New Students Who Fled Dangerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/massachussetts-schools-welcome-new-students-who-fled-danger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=massachussetts-schools-welcome-new-students-who-fled-danger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/massachussetts-schools-welcome-new-students-who-fled-danger/#comments Sat, 08 Nov 2014 14:45:45 +0000 Jane Regan and Yuxiao Yuan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137670 By Jane Regan and Yuxiao Yuan
SOMERVILLE, Massachussetts, Nov 8 2014 (IPS)

Pedro sought a safer life. He traveled to Somerville from Chalantenango, El Salvador on foot, by bus, car, and in the back of a tractor-trailer truck.

Now he’s one of 60 new students from Central America who have enrolled in Somerville Public Schools after making it to the Texas border on their own or with other children, part of a wave of 70,000 youth who crossed the border earlier this year. And the district is concentrating on when those students are going, not where they’ve been.“Whatever student comes to our district will bring strengths and will add to our diverse community and we want them here. We want to give them that message." -- Sarah Davila

“As soon as the student comes to Somerville, they are our students, period, and we don’t need to know, and we’re not interested in knowing about their residency status,” said Sarah Davila, the schools’ District Administrator of Programs, English Learner Education and Family and Community Partnerships.“We want them to be successful.”

Pedro – who, like other students in this article, is not being identified by his real name – had a perilous journey. He has a gash wound in his arm from an injury he got on the way. He ended up in a cell in Texas and then was bounced to an immigrant holding center in Florida before being reunited with his father, who works as a cook in Cambridge.

By the time he got to Somerville, he had a lung infection that landed him in the hospital.

But the hazards of his hometown justified the risky journey, he said.

“It’s really dangerous there,” Pedro said. “There are thugs who don’t leave you in peace.”

Maria, 15, lived with her grandparents, also in Chalantenango. She never remembers meeting her parents before arriving in Somerville.

“I told my parents that, since I was turning 15, I needed to be with them,” she said. “Living with your grandparents is not the same as living with your parents.”

Miguel, 16, came from San Vincente, El Salvador. Back home he lived with an aunt. His mother works for a local bakery here. Miguel said he had been harassed but never hurt by the local toughs. However, one of his friends was regularly ransomed, Miguel said, because he wore nice clothing. Local gang members assumed he had money. They demanded higher and higher payments. Then one day, the friend’s cousin disappeared.

“He suspected that the gang was responsible,” Miguel said. “So he and his family started to save up money and now he lives up here.”

Almost 70,000 young people, mostly from Central America, were apprehended at the U.S. border during fiscal year 2014 (Oct. 1, 2013-Sep. 30, 2014), up 77 percent from a year earlier, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Most of them come from Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala.

Young migrants from those and all non-contiguous countries have the right to apply for asylum once they arrive. If their application is accepted, they get a court date and are then sent to a shelter or to the home of a family member, if one can be identified.

Those three countries are among the most dangerous in the world, according to 2012 United Nations statistics. Honduras had the world’s highest per-capita homicide rate in 2012: 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. El Salvador came in fourth, with 41.2 homicides per 100,000, and Guatemala was fifth, with a rate of 39.9 homicides per 100,000 people.

Adapting to the classroom

The youth who make it to the border and arrive in Somerville face tough odds, according to school counselors and teachers, but the district is ready to take them in. All children in Massachusetts have the right to free public education, regardless of immigrant status or national origin.

All children in Massachusetts have the right to a free public education, regardless of immigration status or national origin. Somerville takes that right seriously, said Sarah Davila, District Administrator of Programs, English Learner Education and Family and Community Partnerships for the Somerville Public Schools.

“Unaccompanied youth is a particular profile,” Davila added. “They come with particular needs and we need to respond to their needs.

“Whatever student comes to our district will bring strengths and will add to our diverse community and we want them here. We want to give them that message,” she said.

The Somerville Public School system calculates that about 60 new students will arrive each school year, but this year the numbers will be much higher. While some students who crossed the border enrolled during the previous school year, in just the first two months of this academic year 48 new students – some unaccompanied minors, others who came to the community with their families – have enrolled, Davila reported. Some of them are high school age but have only a third or fourth grade level.

“Knowing that we have an increase in beginner students…  we’ve shifted our cluster of courses,” Davila said.

Even beginning students take all their courses in English, but now there are more entry-level math and sciences courses. In addition to regular courses, all English language learners take English as a Second Language, many of them from Sarah Sandager.

On a recent morning, a classroom of ninth graders chanted, “Today is October 28, 2014!” before getting back their corrected homework – vocabulary worksheets. Sandager moved up and down the rows, cajoling one student to do a re-write, praising another.

“They have so many challenges,” Sandager explained in an interview. Some have left behind parents or siblings, others have to work 40 hours a week, she said.

“You’re dealing with more than just them learning a language. You have to think about their whole self. The social and emotional component,” she said.

Pedro misses his mother but talks to her on the telephone every day. His dream is to graduate and get a good job “so my family and I can live a better life.”

In the meantime, he hopes the Somerville community will make an effort to understand the immigrant wave from Central America.

“I hope they… look how things are in our countries,” Pedro said. “I just ask people to understand us and give us a little support that we might need and that they don’t discriminate against us.”

A version of this story appeared in the Somerville Journal and Somerville Neighborhood News.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Dirty Energy, Dirty Tacticshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/dirty-energy-dirty-tactics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dirty-energy-dirty-tactics http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/dirty-energy-dirty-tactics/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 19:03:10 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137557 Flooding on the A361, the main road from Taunton to Glastonbury, England. Scientists warn that climate change is well underway, producing costly and tragic extreme weather events. Credit: Mark Robinson/cc by 2.0

Flooding on the A361, the main road from Taunton to Glastonbury, England. Scientists warn that climate change is well underway, producing costly and tragic extreme weather events. Credit: Mark Robinson/cc by 2.0

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 3 2014 (IPS)

“Greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are higher than ever, and we’re seeing more and more extreme weather and climate events….We can’t prevent a large scale disaster if we don’t heed this kind of hard science.”

Question: Is that statement about the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from Greenpeace or the U.S. State Department?The fact that Kerry must appeal to the fossil fuel industry’s sense of morality rather than tough regulations on CO2 emissions makes plain the industry’s naked power in the U.S. political system.

Answer: It’s by John Kerry, U.S. secretary of state, the second most powerful official in the Barack Obama administration.

Important officials in many other countries have made similar statements about the IPCC Synthesis Report released Nov. 2 in Copenhagen. Canada’s Stephen Harper government remains in denial and has been silent.

“The longer we are stuck in a debate over ideology and politics, the more the costs of inaction grow and grow,”said Kerry in a statement.

The IPCC Synthesis Report distills seven years of climate research by thousands of the world’s best scientists and concludes that climate change is well underway, producing costly and tragic extreme weather events. These will grow worse than anyone can imagine unless humanity weans itself off fossil fuels.

Climate change is actually easy to understand and can be summed up in less than 60 seconds:

For decades humanity has pumped hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels —coal, oil and natural gas.

Measurements show there is now 42 percent more CO2 in the atmosphere than 100 years ago. It is long-established science that CO2 acts as blanket, keeping the planet warm by trapping some of the sun’s heat. Each year our emissions of CO2 is making that blanket thicker, trapping more heat.

That fossil-fuel CO2 blanket has raised global temperatures 0.85C. It would far hotter if not for the oceans absorbing 95 percent of the extra heat trapped by the blanket. But the oceans won’t help us for much longer. 2014 will be the warmest year on record.

“Urgent action is needed to cut global greenhouse gas emissions,”said Michel Jarraud, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization.

“The longer we wait, the more expensive and difficult it will be to adapt –to the point where some impacts will be irreversible and impossible to cope with,” Jarraud said in a comment about the Synthesis Report.

There is nothing fundamentally new in this latest IPCC document. All that’s really changed is the urgency and desperation in the language climate scientists now use.

Everyone knows by now that fossil fuels have to be phased out and replaced by energy sources that don’t add more CO2 to the stifling blanket we’ve woven.

And we already know how to make the low-carbon transition because it is “hardly rocket science,” said Bob Watson, former chair of the IPCC.

To reiterate the steps: big increases in energy efficiency, massive roll outs of renewable energy, shutting down most coal plants, a carbon price, etc. There are dozens of studies on how to do this with no new technology. All of this can be achieved with very little extra cost to the global economy, according to The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

These studies end up concluding that what’s missing in a shift to low-carbon living is political will or political courage. Left unsaid is the incredibly powerful and influential fossil fuel industry, their bankers, investors, lawyers, public relations consultants, unions and others all fighting desperately to keep humanity addicted to their products.

That means opposing low-carbon alternatives and branding grandparents who worry about their grandchildren’s future as “green radicals”.

“Think of this as an endless war,”public relations consultant Richard Berman told oil and gas industry executives last June in Colorado.

It’s a dirty war against environmental organisations and their supporters. Industry executives must be willing to exploit emotions like fear, greed and anger of the public against green groups and individuals, Berman said, according a recent New York Times article.

A tobacco industry PR specialist, Berman was speaking at an event sponsored by the Western Energy Alliance, a group whose members include Devon Energy, Halliburton and Anadarko Petroleum. The speech was secretly recorded by an energy industry executive offended by the tactics.

Berman advised major energy corporations secretly financing anti-environmental campaigns not to worry about offending the general public because “you can either win ugly or lose pretty,” he said.

‘Big Green Radicals’ is Berman and Co.’s latest multi-million-dollar campaign and it targets groups like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council. It has also aggressively attacked groups opposing fracking and lobbies to prevent stricter controls over the process that pollutes both air and water.

Berman also promises strict confidentiality for anyone who funds his efforts, saying: “We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organisations that are insulated from having to disclose donors.”

Berman is hardly alone in his efforts. The fossil fuel industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on PR, advertising and lobbying in the U.S., Canada, Australia and elsewhere.

“Those who choose to ignore or dispute the science so clearly laid out in this report do so at great risk for all of us and for our kids and grandkids,” Secretary Kerry said to conclude his statement on IPCC Synthesis Report.

The fact that Kerry must appeal to the fossil fuel industry’s sense of morality rather than tough regulations on CO2 emissions makes plain the industry’s naked power in the U.S. political system.

In Copenhagen on Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was able to say what Kerry couldn’t and urged big investors such as pension funds and insurance companies to reduce their investments in fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy instead.

That’s a start but far more action is needed by everyone who believes that our children and grandchildren have a right to a liveable planet.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Pentagon Comes Up Short on Climatehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-the-pentagon-comes-up-short-on-climate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-pentagon-comes-up-short-on-climate http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-the-pentagon-comes-up-short-on-climate/#comments Sat, 01 Nov 2014 12:56:28 +0000 Eric Bonds http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137516 U.S. Soldiers assigned to the Iowa Army National Guard construct a 7-foot levee to protect an electrical generator from rising floodwaters in Hills, Iowa, June 14, 2008. Credit: DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Oscar M. Sanchez-Alvarez, U.S. Air Force.

U.S. Soldiers assigned to the Iowa Army National Guard construct a 7-foot levee to protect an electrical generator from rising floodwaters in Hills, Iowa, June 14, 2008. Credit: DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Oscar M. Sanchez-Alvarez, U.S. Air Force.

By Eric Bonds
Fredericksburg, VIRGINIA, Nov 1 2014 (IPS)

The Pentagon recently released a new report sounding the alarm on the national security threats posed by climate change. Like previous reports on the subject, this one makes clear that Department of Defence (DoD) planners believe that global warming will seriously challenge our nation’s military forces.

The report finds that, “rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict.If the world’s 10 biggest military spenders cut 25 percent of their defence budgets, it would free up an additional 325 billion dollars to spend on green infrastructure every year.

They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.”

Such outcomes will mean, according to the report, that U.S. troops will be increasingly deployed overseas. The report also warns that many U.S. naval bases are vulnerable to flooding from sea-level rise and from more frequent and increasingly severe tropical storms.

At a time when climate denialism still exerts an influence over U.S. politics, it’s important that the DoD is raising awareness that global warming is real and is profoundly consequential. The Obama administration also seems to have timed the release of this report, which does not itself include much new information, to build broader domestic support for a new global climate treaty.

Nonetheless, the recent report also shows just how limited the Pentagon’s thinking is about the subject, and how militarism itself poses its own roadblocks to creating a more sustainable society that can exist within the bounds of our climate system.

 The missing piece

The clear consensus among climate scientists is that accelerating global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is the only way we can limit the severity of climate change. Yet amid all of its grave warnings about projected climate impacts on national security, the new DoD report leaves this point untouched.

On the contrary, the Pentagon seems instead to be planning for, rather than working to avoid, a warming and more dangerous world.

The report, for instance, describes how the DoD is “beginning work to address a projected sea-level rise of 1.5 feet over the next 20 to 50 years” at the Norfolk naval base. It also states that the DoD is “considering the impacts of climate change in our war games and defense planning scenarios,” and that plans are being made to deal with diminishing Arctic sea ice, which will create new shipping lanes and open up new areas for resource extraction.

The Pentagon’s efforts to promote climate adaptation are understandable in the sense that some warming has been “locked in” to our atmosphere, and that no matter what we do now we will be feeling the impacts of climate change.

But it’s also true that reports like this miss the larger point: the extent of global warming and the severity of its consequences has everything to do with whether or not we act now to aggressively cut emissions. But these cuts just aren’t possible right now without a massive public investment to create a low-carbon economy.

Think big, think green

Although it might go by many different names—a Big Green Buy, a New Green Deal, or a Marshall Plan for the Environment—a serious plan to address global warming would require serious investments into creating more light rails, bullet trains, and bus systems while reorienting our communities to bicycles and walking.

We will need to increase the energy efficiency of our homes and fund the creation of new power systems that do not rely on fossil fuels.

In her new book, Naomi Klein provides a number of possible sources of finance for these public investments—including the elimination of subsidies to fossil fuel companies, a carbon tax, small taxes on financial transactions, or a billionaire’s tax.

Additionally, she argues that if the world’s 10 biggest military spenders cut 25 percent of their defence budgets, it would free up an additional 325 billion dollars to spend on green infrastructure every year.

Similarly, when Miriam Pemberton and Ellen Powell compared climate spending to military spending in the United States, they found that the nation puts only a tiny fraction of money—four percent in comparison to the total DoD budget—into efforts that would cut carbon emissions.

Just by eliminating unneeded and dangerous weapons systems, the U.S. government would have significant new sources of funding for green projects. For example, the U.S. government could change its plans to purchase four more littoral combat ships—which the DoD itself doesn’t want—in order to double the Department of Energy’s funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy efforts.

Likewise, our government could continue paying for 11 aircraft carrier groups to patrol the globe until 2050, or it could retire two groups and put the savings into solar panels on 33 million American homes.

 No roadmap

 This sort of spending—and much more—is what will be required to meaningfully reduce carbon emissions. But the U.S. government currently has no such plans.

When pressed, officials typically mention a lack of funding and the importance of “fiscal restraint” to explain why this need goes unmet. Meanwhile our resources continue to be invested in militarism rather than sustainability.

The Pentagon’s new climate change report, then, demonstrates just how severely limiting it is to speak of global warming as a “national security threat,” rather than thinking about it as a planetary emergency or in terms of environmental and intergenerational justice.

Looking at climate change through a militarised lens of “national security” can only diminish our collective political imagination at the very time when we need all the innovation we can muster to meet one of the defining challenges of our time.

This story originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

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.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Islamic State’s Ideology Is Grounded in Saudi Educationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-islamic-states-ideology-is-grounded-in-saudi-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-islamic-states-ideology-is-grounded-in-saudi-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-islamic-states-ideology-is-grounded-in-saudi-education/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 13:20:49 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137510 Credit: MPH’s blog, Saudi-Season

Credit: MPH’s blog, Saudi-Season

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

According to an article published Oct. 21 on Al-Monitor, the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) has issued new regulations for the school systems under its control in Iraq and Syria. The announced purpose of the so-called guidelines, which carried the imprimatur of the group’s “Amir al-Mu’minin,” presumably leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is to “eradicate ignorance and disseminate Sharia sciences.”

Although the “guidelines” are extreme, controlling and regressive, some of the key elements in the IS educational programme are similar to what one finds in Saudi textbooks, especially those that are taught in Saudi public middle and high schools. The ideological foundations of Saudi public school education are based on Wahhabi-Salafi-Hanbali theology.Science experiments are allowed with the understanding that the doctrine of “Tawheed” or “Oneness” of God permeates the universe. God created everything and every creature. There is no “Big Bang” theory and no evolution of the human, animal, or plant species.

One key difference focuses on the nation-state. Whereas Saudi education accepts the Saudi and other Arab and Muslim states, with recognised boundaries and national ethos, IS rejects national boundaries within Dar al-Islam, or the Abode of Islam, and individual states. Instead, it calls for one Islamic State or a “Caliphate.”

The new guidelines call on teachers to emphasise creationism, reject Darwinism, eliminate music and the arts, teach history from a Sunni-Islamic perspective, discard modernity, and of course segregate the sexes.

Saudi textbooks

Much of IS’s educational “curriculum” finds its roots in Saudi textbooks, especially at the middle school and high school levels. Arabic, literature, history, civic education, cultural values, and norms of behaviour—whether in a home or societal setting—are all taught according to a particular interpretation of Sunni Islam.

The Wahhabi-Salafi-Hanbali interpretation also permeates religion or theology classes, especially those that focus on elements of Sharia, fiqh (jurisprudence), or the Hadith. The biological and physical sciences are taught from a pre-ordained creationist perspective, which rejects modernity in favour of traditionalism.

Science experiments are allowed with the understanding that the doctrine of “Tawheed” or “Oneness” of God permeates the universe. God created everything and every creature. There is no “Big Bang” theory and no evolution of the human, animal, or plant species.

Even the geography curriculum discusses the region from an Islamic perspective. For example, kids are taught that the “Zionists” have occupied Palestine illegally, and the Islamic umma one day must re-establish Muslim control over Jerusalem, the “Third Qibla” of Islam, to which Muslims turn to pray after Mecca and Medina. “Israel,” for example, does not appear on maps of the Arab world in Saudi geography textbooks.

The Saudi curriculum, much like what IS is urging Syrians and Iraqis under its control to teach and preach, imparts to the youth a narrow-minded, conservative, traditional worldview. It is intolerant of other religions and even of other sects in Islam.

Oftentimes, Shia Muslims are considered “apostates,” or “rejectionists,” and could be subject to discrimination and even death. The Shia in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are excluded from key government, defence, and national security positions.

The Saudi youth are socialised in public schools on the importance of Islam in the personal, familial, social, and national levels. Whenever Islam, as a faith and a territory, is threatened or invaded, Muslims have a duty to do jihad against the perceived “enemies” of Islam.

Saudi education espouses this ideology, so do al-Qaeda and IS. In the past three decades, Muslim youth have participated in large numbers in jihad across the Muslim world, from Afghanistan to Chechnya, and from the Balkans to Iraq and Syria.

The Saudi government participates in the anti-IS coalition, yet IS’s jihadist ideology resonates with Saudi educated youth. Their government talks about a possible peace with Israel should it withdraw to the 1967 borders, yet Saudi youth do not see Israel on the maps in their textbooks.

If the Saudi youth are taught about the duty of jihad in the face of a “war on Islam,” as Bin Ladin had preached for years, and view IS rightly or wrongly as the “defender” of Islam, they can’t understand why their government is fighting on the side of Islam’s “enemies.”

This is particularly poignant, especially since some Saudi clerics have strongly endorsed the type of educational curriculum that is currently being pushed by IS in Iraq and Syria.

Textbooks play a central role in educating and socialising Saudi youth and many of their teachers. Many Saudi grade school teachers do not have a college degree and rely on the textbook to guide them through the course. Those who are college graduates usually receive their degrees from teachers’ colleges, which teach a curriculum heavily imbued with Islamic studies and Arabic language, grammar, and literature.

The ministries of education and religious affairs, which are heavily staffed by Salafi Islamists, approve the curriculums and have the final say on what’s taught in schools.

Teachers are not allowed to stray away from the textbook or offer analytic judgments or opinions either on the material in the text or current issues that might relate to the subject under discussion. Both teaching and learning are done almost by rote memory. No critical thinking is allowed and no logical extrapolation is encouraged.

Teachers and students accept whatever interpretations are offered in the textbooks, especially if such an interpretation is attributed to the Koran, the Hadith, or Sharia. Such attributions and religious quotations permeate the textbooks regardless of the subject matter.

Policy implications

So what if the educational curriculum of IS tracks with Saudi education? Should the U.S. and other countries do anything about it, and can they?

Several years back, I briefed senior policymakers in the United States and other countries on the Saudi curriculum, the jihadist message it transmits to youth, and the radicalisation that was sure to follow. It was “actionable” intelligence in that Western diplomats could speak to Saudi leaders about a very specific problem, which they could address.

According to media reports, Saudi officials were amenable to review their textbooks with an eye toward softening the Islamist message. Unfortunately, not much was done.

Saudi clerics objected to any revisions of the textbooks on the grounds that non-Muslim outsiders were interfering with religious teachings in the kingdom. Some of them went even further to depict suggestions along these lines as a “conspiracy” against Islam. Western diplomats, who had pushed the issue, backed off.

Other interests in recent years—including Iran, Iraq, the aftermath of the Arab Spring, counterterrorism, commerce, oil, arming anti-Assad jihadists, and more recently, building a coalition against IS—have in all candor trumped Western interests in “reforming” Saudi textbooks.

I argued in previous articles that although IS is defeatable and containable, the ideological root causes must be dealt with. Otherwise, other Islamist terrorist organisations would rise on the ashes of IS.

The latest educational “guidelines” issued by the Islamic State are a stark example of what’s wrong with our strategic policy planning on the root causes of terrorism. Discussing Saudi textbooks is the first step toward “degrading and defeating” IS.

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.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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Canada Accused of Failing to Prevent Overseas Mining Abuseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/canada-accused-of-failing-to-prevent-overseas-mining-abuses/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=canada-accused-of-failing-to-prevent-overseas-mining-abuses http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/canada-accused-of-failing-to-prevent-overseas-mining-abuses/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 00:09:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137497 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

The Canadian government is failing either to investigate or to hold the country’s massive extractives sector accountable for rights abuses committed in Latin American countries, according to petitioners who testified here Tuesday before an international tribunal.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also heard concerns that the Canadian government is not making the country’s legal system available to victims of these abuses.“Far too often, extractive companies have double-standards in how they behave at home versus abroad.” -- Alex Blair of Oxfam America

“Canada has been committed to a voluntary framework of corporate social responsibility, but this does not provide any remedy for people who have been harmed by Canadian mining operations,” Jen Moore, the coordinator of the Latin America programme at MiningWatch Canada, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“We’re looking for access to the courts but also for the Canadian state to take preventive measures to avoid these problems in the first place – for instance, an independent office that would have the power to investigate allegations of abuse in other countries.”

Moore and others who testified before the commission formally submitted a report detailing the concerns of almost 30 NGOs. Civil society groups have been pushing the Canadian government to ensure greater accountability for this activity for years, Moore says, and that work has been buttressed by similar recommendations from both a parliamentary commission, in 2005, and the United Nations.

“Nothing new has taken place over the past decade … The Canadian government has refused to implement the recommendations,” Moore says.

“The state’s response to date has been to firmly reinforce this voluntary framework that doesn’t work – and that’s what we heard from them again during this hearing. There was no substantial response to the fact that there are all sorts of cases falling through the cracks.”

Canada, which has one of the largest mining sectors in the world, is estimated to have some 1,500 projects in Latin America – more than 40 percent of the mining companies operating in the region. According to the new report, and these overseas operations receive “a high degree” of active support from the Canadian government.

“We’re aware of a great deal of conflict,” Shin Imai, a lawyer with the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, a Canadian civil society initiative, said Tuesday. “Our preliminary count shows that at least 50 people have been killed and some 300 wounded in connection with mining conflicts involving Canadian companies in recent years, for which there has been little to no accountability.”

These allegations include deaths, injuries, rapes and other abuses attributed to security personnel working for Canadian mining companies. They also include policy-related problems related to long-term environmental damage, illegal community displacement and subverting democratic processes.

Home state accountability

The Washington-based IACHR, a part of the 35-member Organisation of American States (OAS), is one of the world’s oldest multilateral rights bodies, and has looked at concerns around Canadian mining in Latin America before.

Yet this week’s hearing marked the first time the commission has waded into the highly contentious issue of “home state” accountability – that is, whether companies can be prosecuted at home for their actions abroad.

“This hearing was cutting-edge. Although the IACHR has been one of the most important allies of human rights violations’ victims in Latin America, it’s a little bit prudent when it faces new topics or new legal challenges,” Katya Salazar, executive director of the Due Process of Law Foundation, a Washington-based legal advocacy group, told IPS.

“And talking about the responsibility for the home country of corporations working in Latin America is a very new challenge. So we’re very happy to see how the commission’s understanding and concern about these topics have evolved.”
Home state accountability has become progressively more vexed as industries and supply chains have quickly globalised. Today, companies based in rich countries, with relatively stronger legal systems, are increasingly operating in developing countries, often under weaker regulatory regimes.

The extractives sector has been a key example of this, and over the past two decades it has experienced one of the highest levels of conflict with local communities of any industry. For advocates, part of the problem is a current vagueness around the issue of the “extraterritorial” reach of domestic law.

“Far too often, extractive companies have double-standards in how they behave at home versus abroad,” Alex Blair, a press officer with the extractives programme at Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group, told IPS. “They think they can take advantage of weaknesses in local laws, oversight and institutions to operate however they want in developing countries.”

Blair notes a growing trend of local and indigenous communities going abroad to hold foreign companies accountable. Yet these efforts remain extraordinarily complex and costly, even as legal avenues in many Western countries continue to be constricted.

Transcending the legalistic

At this week’s hearing, the Canadian government maintained that it was on firm legal ground, stating that it has “one of the world’s strongest legal and regulatory frameworks towards its extractives industries”.

In 2009, Canada formulated a voluntary corporate responsibility strategy for the country’s international extractives sector. The country also has two non-judicial mechanisms that can hear grievances arising from overseas extractives projects, though neither of these can investigate allegations, issue rulings or impose punitive measures.

These actions notwithstanding, the Canadian response to the petitioners concerns was to argue that local grievances should be heard in local court and that, in most cases, Canada is not legally obligated to pursue accountability for companies’ activities overseas.

“With respect to these corporations’ activities outside Canada, the fact of their incorporation within Canada is clearly not a sufficient connection to Canada to engage Canada’s obligations under the American Declaration,” Dana Cryderman, Canada’s alternate permanent representative to the OAS, told the commission, referring to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the document that underpins the IACHR’s work.

Cryderman continued: “[H]ost countries in Latin America offer domestic legal and regulatory avenues through which the claims being referenced by the requesters can and should be addressed.”

Yet this rationale clearly frustrated some of the IACHR’s commissioners, including the body’s current president, Rose-Marie Antoine.

“Despite the assurances of Canada there’s good policy, we at the commission continue to see a number of very, very serious human rights violations occurring in the region as a result of certain countries, and Canada being one of the main ones … so we’re seeing the deficiencies of those policies,” Antoine said following the Canadian delegation’s presentation.

“On the one hand, Canada says, ‘Yes, we are responsible and wish to promote human rights.’ But on the other hand, it’s a hands-off approach … We have to move beyond the legalistic if we’re really concerned about human rights.”

Antoine noted the commission was currently working on a report on the impact of natural resources extraction on indigenous communities. She announced, for the first time, that the report would include a chapter on what she referred to as the “very ticklish issue of extraterritoriality”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Panama Regulators Could Slow U.S. Approval of GM Salmonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panama-regulators-could-slow-u-s-approval-of-gm-salmon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panama-regulators-could-slow-u-s-approval-of-gm-salmon http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panama-regulators-could-slow-u-s-approval-of-gm-salmon/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 00:01:07 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137439 Some 60 major U.S. food retailers have already pledged not to sell GE salmon. Credit: Kevin Galens/cc by 2.0

Some 60 major U.S. food retailers have already pledged not to sell GE salmon. Credit: Kevin Galens/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 29 2014 (IPS)

Officials in Panama have fined the local facility of a U.S. biotechnology company for a series of permitting and regulatory failures around a pioneering attempt to create genetically modified salmon.

The experiments are being carried out by researchers for AquaBounty Technologies, which currently has an application with the U.S. government to sell genetically modified (GM) salmon filets in this country. If regulators approve that application, AquaBounty’s salmon would be the first genetically modified meat sold for human consumption anywhere in the world."There are about 35 other genetically modified species in the development pipelines in other companies." -- Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth

Further, companies in the United States and around the globe are said to be actively watching U.S. regulators’ response to AquaBounty’s application as a critical indication of whether to proceed with other GM meat projects.

“AquaBounty is really out front on this – the current case will set an important precedent,” Dana Perls, a food and technology campaigner at Friends of the Earth, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“From what we know, there are about 35 other genetically modified species in the development pipelines in other companies. So depending on what happens in this case, we’ll likely either see a flow of other permits or this will demonstrate that there isn’t room on the market for GM meat or seafood.”

AquaBounty’s application with the U.S. government would involve getting filets of the new GM salmon from the company’s breeding facility in Panama and into the U.S. market. Advocates are now pointing to the Panamanian authorities’ findings of regulations violations as an indication that the U.S. regulatory process is proceeding too quickly in considering the salmon application.

“The impacts GM foods will have on health and the environment have not been sufficiently assessed to approve human consumption of this salmon,” Luisa Arauz Arredondo, an attorney with the Panama Centre for Environmental Advocacy, which filed the administrative complaint against AquaBounty, told IPS.

She notes that while AquaBounty’s facilities in Panama have permission to run experiments on the salmon, the country has not approved anything further.

“The salmon would not be sold to Panamanian consumers,” she says, “since the human consumption of GM salmon has not been approved by Panama or the U.S.”

Repeat violations

The Panamanian regulatory decision, which was made public on Tuesday, actually stems from a 2012 investigation of AquaBounty’s facilities and was decided in July of this year. It found that the company had failed to secure necessary permits, particularly around its use of water and pollution of the local environment – potentially important, advocates say, given the possibility of contamination of natural systems.

The authorities noted their view that the company had “repeatedly violated” these regulations, and stated that these problems persisted into 2013. They deemed the transgressions significant enough to levy almost the maximum fine allowable against the company.

AquaBounty Technologies suggests that the concerns outlined by Panama’s government were largely administrative in nature and notes that any problems have all been dealt with already.

“It is important to emphasize that none of the issues in the Resolution questioned the containment, health of the fish, or the environmental safety of the facility,” the company said in a statement sent to IPS.

“When AquaBounty was informed of issues at our Panama facility, we immediately contacted ANAM, the Panamanian agency for the environment. We initiated a program to remedy the deficiencies and the issues were formally resolved in August of 2014.”

The company notes that its Panama facility “continues to operate with no sanctions or restrictions.”

Whether the actions on the part of Panama’s government will impact on the ongoing consideration of AquaBounty’s application by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) remains to be seen.

A spokesperson for the FDA likewise pointed out that AquaBounty’s violations were based on a 2012 inspection, but also said the agency would “consider all relevant information as part of the decision-making process.”

The spokesperson noted that the agency is in the process of completing its review of the company’s application, but declined to provide a timeline on what that decision will be made.

Shoehorning regulation

For environmentalists, public interest groups and anti-GMO advocates, the Panama findings underscore a potential weakness in the FDA’s regulatory process.

“This decision is also even further proof that FDA is dangerously out of touch with the facts on the ground, advancing AquaBounty’s application based on its promises, not reality,” George Kimbrell, a senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety, a Washington-based advocacy group, said Tuesday.

Friends of the Earth’s Perls says that the FDA’s current regulatory review of the GM salmon application is based solely on the single AquaBounty facility in Panama.

“The FDA is going forward with its review based on the premise that this facility will be in compliance with regulations, yet now we’re seeing it’s not,” she says. “It is increasingly clear that there is inadequate regulation: the FDA is trying to shoehorn this new genetically engineered animal into a completely ill-fitting regulatory process.”

Much of the concern here revolves around the potential for genetically modified hybrids to escape into the wild, potentially outcompeting wild populations or introducing new diseases. Yet the issue also runs up against the scepticism that continues to colour consumer response to genetically modified foods – and the sense that regulators are moving too quickly to approve these products.

When the FDA in 2012 asked the public to weigh in on the AquaBounty salmon application, it received some 1.8 million comments expressing overwhelming opposition. Members of the U.S. Congress have likewise expressed their concern, and legislation has been proposed that would require the labelling of genetically modified fish.

As yet, there is no legal requirement in the United States to label any genetically modified food or ingredient, though the state of Vermont could soon impose such a mandate. According to a media poll conducted last year, some 93 percent of people in the U.S. support the labelling of genetically modified foods, and three-quarters said they would not eat GM fish.

Yet perhaps the most significant indication of public sentiment on this issue has come from the retailers that have pre-emptively stated that they would not sell genetically modified fish and seafood – regardless of whether the FDA approves its sale. According to data compiled by Friends of the Earth, some 60 major U.S. food retailers have already pledged to do so, including several of the country’s largest grocery chains.

“Should GE salmon come to market, we are not considering nor do we have any plans to carry GE salmon,” Safeway, the second-largest grocer in the United States, said in a policy statement released in February. “Safeway’s [policy] calls for all of our fresh and frozen seafood to be responsibly sourced and traceable or be in a time-bound improvement process by the end of 2015.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Resolving Key Nuclear Issue Turns on Iran-Russia Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/resolving-key-nuclear-issue-turns-on-iran-russia-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=resolving-key-nuclear-issue-turns-on-iran-russia-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/resolving-key-nuclear-issue-turns-on-iran-russia-deal/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 17:24:57 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137422 By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

U.S. and Iranian negotiators are working on a compromise approach to the issue of Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities, which the Barack Obama administration has said in the past Iran was refusing to make concessions on.

The compromise now being seriously discussed would meet the Obama administration’s original requirement for limiting Iran’s “breakout capability” by a combination of limits on centrifuge numbers and reduction of Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium, rather than by cutting centrifuges alone.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif prior the talks between the E3+3 (France, Germany, UK, China, Russia and U.S.) and Iran, Jul. 3, 2014 in Vienna, Austria. Credit: cc by 2.0

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif prior the talks between the E3+3 (France, Germany, UK, China, Russia and U.S.) and Iran, Jul. 3, 2014 in Vienna, Austria. Credit: cc by 2.0

That approach might permit Iran to maintain something close to its present level of operational centrifuges.

The key to the new approach is Iran’s willingness to send both its existing stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU) as well as newly enriched uranium to Russia for conversion into fuel for power plants for an agreed period of years.

In the first official indication of the new turn in the negotiations, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Marzieh Afkham acknowledged in a briefing for the Iranian press Oct. 22 that new proposals combining a limit on centrifuges and the transfer of Iran’s LEU stockpile to Russia were under discussion in the nuclear negotiations.

The briefing was translated by BBC’s monitoring service but not reported in the Western press.

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who heads the U.S. delegation to the talks, has not referred publicly to the compromise approach, but she appeared to be hinting at it when she said on Oct. 25 that the two sides had “made impressive progress on issues that originally seemed intractable.”

Despite the new opening to a resolution of what had been cited for months as the main obstacle to a comprehensive agreement, the negotiations could nevertheless stall in the final weeks over the timing of sanctions removal.

Iran’s willingness to negotiate such arrangements with the U.S. delegation will depend on Russia’s agreement to take the Iranian enriched uranium.

The beginning of discussions on the new approach was reported in September – just days after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin had met to discuss key issues in Iranian-Russian cooperation on the building of two nuclear power plants and fuel supply for Bushehr.

The proposed reduction of Iran’s accumulation of LEU by shipping it to Russia could achieve the Obama administration’s original minimum objective for an acceptable agreement, which was defined by a minimum number of months it would take Iran to enrich enough uranium for a single nuclear weapon.

Secretary of State John Kerry presented the administration’s requirement for that period last April as being six to 12 months. The six to 12-month requirement has been translated into a demand in the negotiations for a draconian cut to a few thousand centrifuges.

However, that demand is not justified on technical calculations of a “breakout timeline”.The problem of shipping LEU to Russia for conversion to nuclear fuel was linked to a larger set of difficult issues in Iran’s nuclear cooperation with Russia.

David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, who supported the demand for a cut to a few thousand centrifuges, acknowledged in an analysis published in June that the reduction of the Iranian LEU stockpile to 1,000 kilogrammes would increase the breakout time for the present level of 10,000 Iranian operational centrifuges to six months, and a reduction to zero would increase it to nearly a year.

A deal that would reduce Iran’s stockpile to a minimum would be consistent with the proposal Iran had presented to the P5+1 early in the negotiations.

As Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif outlined the proposal to this writer in June, Iran proposed to guarantee immediate conversion of each batch of low-enriched uranium to oxide powder to be used to make fuel assemblies for the Bushehr reactor.

But the plan did not explicitly address how Iran would dispose of the existing stockpile of LEU, and the United States has dismissed any plan in which Iran maintained large quantities of oxide powder, on the ground that it could be reversed. Iran could not negotiate such arrangement with the P5+1 without first reaching agreement with the Russians.

But the problem of shipping LEU to Russia for conversion to nuclear fuel was linked to a larger set of difficult issues in Iran’s nuclear cooperation with Russia. Iran and Russia already have a commercial agreement for Russian provision of fuel for Iran’s Bushehr reactor until 2021.

But Iran and Russia have been negotiating on the construction of two new nuclear reactors by Russia, and Iran wanted Russia to agree to Iranian participation in enrichment for the fuel as well as in making the fuel assemblies for the reactors.

A “preliminary agreement” on a contract for building the two new reactors was announced Mar. 12, but negotiations on key points involving the additional Iranian demands were still pending.

Anton Khlopkov, director of the Center for Energy and Security Studies in Moscow, told IPS that the Russian acceptance of Iranian LEU would pose serious commercial issues for Russia.

It would lose significant profits it expected from doing the enrichment itself by agreeing to use Iranian LEU for conversion into fuel assemblies rather than uranium available in Russia. Iranian uranium is much more expensive than the uranium to which Russia has access, Khlopkov said.

Iran also wants to do at least some of the enrichment for the new reactors to be built, which would increase the compensation required for the deal.

Explaining the rationale for the Iranian enrichment demand, Ali Akbar Salehi, the director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said in early July that Iran had no desire to “carry out all the enrichment inside Iran” but added that “the other parties must know that if some day they don’t give us the fuel for power plants, Iran has the ability to produce it.”

The second major commercial issue in the negotiations with Russia is Iran’s desire to take over the fabrication of fuel assemblies for Bushehr and other power plants from the Russians after 2021.

In a Sep. 29 interview with this writer, Salehi said that the negotiations with Russia “include a wide spectrum of issues,” which include Iran’s desire to “share in the technology of the power plants”.

Iran is years away from having the capacity to do that, however, and it would need technical assistance from Russia. The United States, meanwhile, has made it clear it believes Iran could and should continue to rely on Russia to provide the fuel for the Bushehr reactor, even after the current contract for the fuel expires in 2021.

Khlopkov did not rule out the possibility of “some kind of partnership for fuel production,” but only if Iran is ready to compensate for Russia for its commercial losses. Fuel fabrication is a “big business, which nobody wants to lose,” Khlopkov said.

On Jun. 24, the spokesman for AEOI, Behrooz Kamalvandi, announced that the contract for the two nuclear power plants would be signed within weeks during a visit by Salehi to Moscow, but he acknowledged “some elements” in the agreement remained unresolved.

In a sign that Russia and Iran were close to agreement on the unresolved issues connected with the reactor deal, the heads of government were brought into talks. On Sep. 12, Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said the two presidents would meet on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and that both bilateral cooperation on nuclear power and the Iran-P5+1 talks would be among the topics to be discussed.

On Sep. 19, one week after the Rouhani-Putin meeting, the Associated Press reported that a new U.S. proposal involving a trade-off between reducing the LEU stockpile and the size of the cut in centrifuges had been discussed in bilateral talks between the United States and Iran. Iran was reported to have been “cautiously receptive”.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted at porter.gareth50@gmail.com

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Good Twins or Evil Twins? U.S., China Could Tip the Climate Balancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/good-twins-or-evil-twins-u-s-china-could-tip-the-climate-balance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=good-twins-or-evil-twins-u-s-china-could-tip-the-climate-balance http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/good-twins-or-evil-twins-u-s-china-could-tip-the-climate-balance/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 18:16:47 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137409 Saint Mary's Cement Plant, Dixon, Illinois. China’s steel industry is far less efficient than the U.S., but the reverse is true when it comes to cement production. Credit: Wayne Wilkinson/cc by 2.0

Saint Mary's Cement Plant, Dixon, Illinois. China’s steel industry is far less efficient than the U.S., but the reverse is true when it comes to cement production. Credit: Wayne Wilkinson/cc by 2.0

By Stephen Leahy
BONN, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

China and the United States are responsible for 35 percent of global carbon emissions but could do their part to keep climate change to less than two degrees C by adopting best energy efficiency standards, a new analysis shows.

Although China’s energy use has skyrocketed over the past two decades, the average American citizen consumes four times more electricity than a Chinese citizen.Under business as usual economic growth, the new infrastructure planned and likely to built over the next five years will commit the world to enough CO2 to max out the 2C carbon budget.

However, when it comes to energy efficiency, China’s steel industry is far less efficient than the U.S. The reverse is true when it comes to cement production, according a new Climate Action Tracker analysis of energy use and savings potential for electricity production, industry, buildings and transport in the two countries.

If China and the U.S. integrate the best efficiency policies, “they would both be on the right pathway to keep warming below two degrees C,”said Bill Hare a climate scientist at Climate Analytics in Berlin, Germany.

Both countries need to “dramatically reduce”their use of coal, Hare said.

Right now, neither country is a global leader in any sector, the analysis found. Climate Action Tracker is a collaboration between Climate Analytics, Ecofys and the Pik Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“We looked at how well both the U.S. and China would do if they each adopted a ‘best of the two’practice in electricity production, industry, buildings and transport. We found this, alone, would set them in a better direction,”Niklas Höhne of Ecofys told IPS.

One major reason U.S. energy use per person is 400 percent greater is that living space per person in the U.S. is twice that in China, while Chinese buildings generally consume much less energy.

“By no means are China’s buildings the most energy efficient. [But] they are generally newer and use less air conditioning and heating than in the U.S.,”said Höhne.

However, energy consumption in China’s residential sector is significantly increasing. If both were to move to European Union (EU) standards, this would produce massive reductions, the report found.

Another major reason for greater U.S. energy use is that car ownership is 10 times higher than China.  In addition, China has lower emissions per car due to somewhat stricter standards. Again, if both were to move to global best practice (e.g., emission standards for cars as in the EU, increase of share of electric cars as in Norway) there could be a major difference.

China and the U.S. are very different but could learn from each other, said Michiel Schaeffer, a scientist with Climate Analytics. Better yet, they could move to a true leadership position by adopting the best practices in the world.

“At the moment, neither are leading,” he noted.

Time is not on anyone’s side. Global carbon emissions continue to increase year after year and if they don’t peak and begin to decline in the next two or three years, it will be extremely difficult and costly to keep global temperatures from rising above two degrees C.

Temperatures have risen .085 degrees C so far and are linked to billions of dollars in damages, with extreme events affecting tens of millions people, as previously reported by IPS.

Should both the U.S. and China adopt the global best practices on energy use, U.S. emissions would decline 18 percent below 2005 by 2020 (roughly five percent below 1990 levels) and China’s would peak in the early 2020s.

That would close the crucial ‘emissions gap’by nearly 25 percent. The emissions gap is the amount of carbon reductions over and above current commitments that are needed before 2020 in order to have a good chance of staying below 2C.

The EU is by far the global leader on climate cutting emissions by more than 20 percent by 2020 compared to 1990, and last week committed to slashing emissions at least 40 percent by 2030.  A June 2014 CAT analysis noted that the U.S. and other advanced economies which are known as Annex 1 countries in U.N. climate treaties have to trim their carbon budgets 35 to 55 percent by 2030 and be fossil fuel free around 2050.

While those dates may seem far in the future, the reality is that no new carbon-burning infrastructure— buildings, homes, vehicles, power stations, factories and so on  —can be built after 2018.

The only exceptions would be for replacing existing infrastructure, according to a recent study of what’s termed carbon commitments. Build a gas-heated home today and it will emit CO2 this year and be committed to more CO2 every year it is used.

Under business as usual economic growth, the new infrastructure planned and likely to built over the next five years will commit the world to enough CO2 to max out the 2C carbon budget. That budget is the amount of CO2 or carbon that can be emitting and stay below 2C.

After 2018, the only choice will be to shut down power plants and other large carbon emitters before their normal lifespan.

Any plan or strategy to cut CO2 emissions has to give far greater prominence to infrastructure investments. Right now the data shows “we’re embracing fossil fuels more than ever,” Robert Socolow of Princeton University and co-author of the study told Vice Motherboard.

“We’ve been hiding what’s going on from ourselves: A high-carbon future is being locked in by the world’s capital investments,” Socolow said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Contras and Drugs, Three Decades Laterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-contras-and-drugs-three-decades-later/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-contras-and-drugs-three-decades-later http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-contras-and-drugs-three-decades-later/#comments Sun, 26 Oct 2014 21:28:10 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137384 President Ronald Reagan with top aides Caspar Weinberger, George Shultz, Ed Meese, and Don Regan discussing the president's remarks on the Iran-Contra affair, Oval Office. Nov. 25, 1986. Credit: Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library, official government record

President Ronald Reagan with top aides Caspar Weinberger, George Shultz, Ed Meese, and Don Regan discussing the president's remarks on the Iran-Contra affair, Oval Office. Nov. 25, 1986. Credit: Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library, official government record

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
SAN JUAN, Oct 26 2014 (IPS)

In late 1986, Washington was rocked by revelations that the Ronald Reagan administration had illegally aided a stateless army known as the contras in Central America.

Thus began the Iran Contra scandal. The contras were an irregular military formation put together by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1981 to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua. The war they provoked caused tens of thousands of deaths and devastating damage to Nicaragua’s economy.What’s truly tragic and ironic in this whole affair is that the main allegations in Webb’s contra reporting had been confirmed in 1998 by a CIA report authored by the agency’s inspector general, Frederick Hitz.

Reagan’s aid was illegal since Congress had banned it. The Reagan administration responded to the congressional ban by setting up secret and illegal channels to keep the contras supplied and armed. The operation was directly supervised by the office of Vice President George H. W. Bush, who himself had headed the CIA in the 1970s.

The contras also benefited from collaboration with South American cocaine cartels. This explosive information was uncovered at least as early as 1985 when Associated Press reporters Robert Parry and Brian Barger co-wrote an article that cited documentation and witness testimony from inside both the contra movement and the U.S. government implicating nearly all contra groups in drug trafficking.

John Kerry, then a U.S. senator, carried out an investigation into illegal contra activities, including drugs, as head of a Senate subcommittee. His investigation was all but ignored by the mainstream media, which was busy covering the congressional Iran Contra hearings, the ones that made a celebrity of National Security Council staffer Oliver North.

The media also ignored the final report of Kerry’s investigation, “Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy”, released in 1989.

In 1996, the subject of contra drug dealing reappeared in a series of investigative articles by reporter Gary Webb published by the San Jose Mercury News in California.

For these articles, Webb was savaged by fellow reporters and editors, particularly from the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. The Mercury News buckled under the pressure and got rid of Webb.

Unemployed, shunned by his own colleagues and practically abandoned by progressive sectors that had lost interest in the contra story, Webb took his own life in 2004. His journalistic saga and tragic end are the subject of a new Hollywood movie called “Kill The Messenger.”

Some insist that Webb was assassinated by the CIA. Regarding this, Robert Parry, who was friends with Webb, wrote:

“Some people want to believe that he was really assassinated by the CIA or some other government agency. But the evidence of his carefully planned suicide – as he suffered deep pain as a pariah in his profession who could no longer earn a living – actually points to something possibly even more tragic: Webb ended his life because people who should have supported his work simply couldn’t be bothered.”

What’s truly tragic and ironic in this whole affair is that the main allegations in Webb’s contra reporting had been confirmed in 1998 by a CIA report authored by the agency’s inspector general, Frederick Hitz.

But the mainstream media alleged that the report cleared the CIA and the contras of drug trafficking. The report indeed concluded that the CIA had not conspired to fund the contras with the help of drug cartels.

But Hitz, now a scholar at the University of Virginia’s Center for National Security Law, said in the report that the war against the Sandinistas had taken precedence over law enforcement, and that the CIA had evidence of contra involvement in cocaine trafficking and hid it from the Justice Department, Congress, and even from the agency’s own analytics division.

Hitz interviewed CIA officers who confessed to him that they knew of contra drug trafficking but kept quiet about it because they thought that such disclosures would undermine the fight against the Nicaraguan regime.

He also received complaints from agency analysts to the effect that field officers who worked directly with the contras hid evidence of drug trafficking, and that then, working with partial and incomplete information, they concluded that only a few contras were involved with drugs.

On Oct. 10, 1998, the New York Times ran a piece attacking Webb’s credibility while acknowledging, as if it were a minor detail, that contra drug dealing was worse than the newspaper had originally estimated.

In September the CIA declassified a number of articles from its in-house journal Studies in Intelligence. One of these showed that the agency was genuinely distressed by Webb’s contra articles, and that it took active steps against him, relying on “a ground base of already productive relations with journalists”.

The article even brags that the CIA discouraged “one major news affiliate” from covering the story.

The article’s author tries to fathom the hostility of broad sectors of the U.S. population toward the CIA: “We live in somewhat coarse and emotional times—when large numbers of Americans do not adhere to the same standards of logic, evidence, or even civil discourse as those practiced by members of the CIA community.”

That’s an actual quote.

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.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Contractors Convicted in 2007 Blackwater Baghdad Traffic Massacrehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-contractors-convicted-in-2007-blackwater-baghdad-traffic-massacre/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-contractors-convicted-in-2007-blackwater-baghdad-traffic-massacre http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-contractors-convicted-in-2007-blackwater-baghdad-traffic-massacre/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 00:50:16 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137333 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

A federal jury here Wednesday convicted one former Blackwater contractor of murder and three of his colleagues of voluntary manslaughter in the deadly shootings of 14 unarmed civilians killed in Baghdad’s Nisour Square seven years ago.

The judge in the case ordered the men detained pending sentencing."To this day, the U.S. government continues to award Blackwater and its successor entities millions of dollars each year in contracts, essentially rewarding war crimes." -- Baher Azmy

The massacre, which resulted in a wave of popular anger in Iraq against the United States, and especially the army of private security contractors which it employed there, contributed heavily to the Iraqi government’s later refusal to sign an agreement with Washington to extend the U.S. military presence there.

It also sealed the reputation of Blackwater, a “private military” firm headed by Erik Prince, a right-wing former Navy Seal, as a trigger-happy mercenary outfit whose recklessness and insensitivity to local populations jeopardised Washington’s interests in conflict situations.

After the incident, the Iraqi government banned the company, which had a one-billion-dollar contract at the time to protect U.S. diplomats. Iraq’s parliament subsequently enacted laws making foreign contractors working in the country subject to Iraqi legal jurisdiction for criminal acts they committed.

It was Baghdad’s insistence in 2011 that such a condition also apply to all U.S. military forces that scotched a proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would have permitted Washington to maintain thousands U.S. troops in Iraq after the Dec. 31, 2011 deadline for their final withdrawal.

“The verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war,” said Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, after the Wednesday’s verdicts were announced.

“Seven years ago, these Blackwater contractors unleashed powerful sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers on innocent men, women and children. Today, they were held accountable for that outrageous attack and its devastating consequences for so many Iraqi families,” he said in a statement.

While praising the verdicts, some observers said that Blackwater itself should have been on trial. “(H)olding individuals responsible is not enough,” noted Baher Azmy, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represented Iraqi victims of the killings in a human-rights case against Blackwater that settled in 2010.

“Private military contractors …have engaged in a variety of war crimes and atrocities during the [2003 Iraq] invasion and occupation while reaping billions of dollars in profits from the war. To this day, the U.S. government continues to award Blackwater and its successor entities millions of dollars each year in contracts, essentially rewarding war crimes,” he said.

Wednesday’s verdicts, which confirmed initial findings by an FBI investigation carried out within two months of the massacre, are likely to be appealed to a higher court by the defendants’ attorneys who contend that the convoy they were leading had come under attack and that their clients were acting in self-defence at the time.

They are also likely to challenge the verdicts on the grounds that key evidence presented to the jury consisted of initial statements of what took place that were effectively “coerced” by interrogators who allegedly assured them that what they said would not be used in court. That issue has been bounced between courts since the Justice Department filed the case in 2010.

Altogether, 17 Iraqi civilians, including two boys aged nine and 11, were killed and 20 more injured when, on Sep. 16, 2007, a State Department convoy entered Baghdad’s busy Nisour Square with the armoured Blackwater vehicle in the lead.

While defendants and Blackwater itself insisted that the convoy came under attack, the FBI and prosecution contended there was no evidence to sustain such a conclusion.

According to the latter, the unit’s sniper, Nicholas Slatten, opened fire on a car which, according to the defence, had approached the Blackwater vehicle in a suspicious manner. Slatten’s shots, which killed the car’s driver, a medical student, triggered chaos throughout the circle.

In addition to Slatten, who was convicted of first-degree murder, a total of six members of the Blackwater team fired their weapons as they moved through the circle, according to the prosecution.

One team member, Jeremy Ridgeway, pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter in 2008 and served as a prosecution witness in the case. Charges against another defendant were dropped shortly afterwards. Several other team members also testified against the defendants.

Aside from Slatten’s conviction, three other guards Wednesday were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, as well as various weapons offences.

The Justice Department had charged that they “unlawfully and intentionally, upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion,” did commit voluntary manslaughter.”

If sustained, Slatten’s murder conviction requires a sentence of life imprisonment. Each count of voluntary manslaughter – and each of the other three defendants were convicted of multiple counts – can carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

The trial itself began earlier this summer and lasted two months. In addition to the Blackwater guards who testified for the prosecution, the Justice Department brought 30 Iraqi witnesses, including surviving family members who witnessed or were injured in the incident, to testify. Despite their dramatic and often wrenching accounts, the trial received relatively little media attention.

The verdicts were hailed by Paul Dickinson, an attorney who represented six of the families – including the nine-year-old victim, Ali Kinani, whose father was the first witness to testify for the prosecution in the current case — whose members were killed or injured in the massacre in a separate civil lawsuit filed against Blackwater in North Carolina in 2009. That case settled with an undisclosed compensation agreement in 2012.

“I am confident that my clients are pleased with today’s verdict, knowing that the men they alleged killed their family members have been brought to justice and held criminally accountable for their actions,” he told IPS in an email. “While a criminal conviction can never fully satisfy a family that lost a loved one, it does provide some closure for my clients.”

The verdict, he said, was “significant because it shows that government contractors who commit crimes abroad can be prosecuted in US courts for their criminal actions.”

Pratap Chatterjee, an investigative reporter who has focused on the operations of U.S. military contractors, including Blackwater, in Iraq and Afghanistan, agreed with that assessment, but, echoing CCR’s Asmy, stressed that it was “only one step of many that need to be taken in bringing justice to Iraq.”

“Many similar incidents have neither been investigated nor anyone prosecuted,” Chatterjee, who currently heads California-based Corpwatch, told IPS. “To this day, the private companies and their executives who turned Baghdad into a free-fire zone have yet to be charged.”

Earlier this summer, the New York Times reported that the State Department had initiated an investigation of Blackwater’s operations in Iraq just before the Nisour incident but had abandoned it after Blackwater’s top manager there issued an apparent death threat. According to a State Department memo of the conversation, the Blackwater official said “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Destroys Its Own Weapons in Enemy Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-destroys-its-own-weapons-in-enemy-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-destroys-its-own-weapons-in-enemy-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-destroys-its-own-weapons-in-enemy-hands/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 23:13:01 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137330 The Security Council unanimously imposed sanctions on six individuals associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and with Al-Nusra Front (ANF), terrorist groups which now control parts of Iraq and Syria, in August. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

The Security Council unanimously imposed sanctions on six individuals associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and with Al-Nusra Front (ANF), terrorist groups which now control parts of Iraq and Syria, in August. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

When the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) captured a treasure trove of U.S. weapons from fleeing Iraqi soldiers last month, one of the rebel leaders with a morbid sense of humour was quoted as saying rather sarcastically: “We hope the Americans would honour their agreements and service our helicopters.”

As fighter planes continue attacking ISIL targets, some of the U.S. airstrikes are, paradoxically, aimed at U.S.-made helicopters, Humvees, armoured personnel carriers and anti-aircraft artillery guns originally supplied to the Iraqi armed forces and currently deployed by the rebel group.

Not surprisingly, they are all under U.S. warranties for maintenance, repair and servicing.

The whole military exercise has degenerated into a political farce compounded by last week’s airdrops of weapons to Kurdish forces battling ISIL, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in Kobani, inside Syria.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that arms and ammunition parachuted from over 10,000 feet high above the skies – and known as Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPAD) – has not always reached the Kurds.

At least one of the malfunctioning parachutes, loaded with weapons, drifted into an area controlled by ISIL.

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 recent reports suggest that weapons the U.S. military had dropped for the Kurds have been seized by ISIS forces.

“This left the U.S. military with the uncomfortable choice between allowing the ISIS forces to keep the weapons or trying to destroy the very weapons it had just dropped. They reportedly chose to destroy the weapons,” she said.

She said the U.S. military’s explanation of the operation was not reassuring.

Asked about U.S. weapons in the hands of ISIL, Rear Admiral John Kirby, spokesman for Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, told reporters Tuesday: “I do want to add, though, that we are very confident that the vast majority of the bundles did end up in the right hands. In fact, we’re only aware of one bundle that did not. Again, we’ll – if we can confirm that this one is or isn’t, we’ll certainly do that and let you know.”

“Surely, the world’s foremost military can and should hold itself to a far higher standard,” said Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS, “Where does at least an important part of this story begin: the story of U.S. arms ultimately winding up with U.S. enemies?”

He said ISIS using American-supplied arms is not a new story, but one would have thought the U.S. might learn a lesson.

“Stop giving or selling arms to the world, but particularly to militaries or groups that ultimately will turn against the United States or who are too weak to hold on to the weaponry,” said Ratner, who is president of the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

He pointed out former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his national security advisor armed the mujahideen rebels in Afghanistan as a means of pushing back the then Soviet Union.

“Ideology trumping common sense and with dire results, including ultimately 9/11 and the continuing wars we face today,” he said.

Asked whether the ultimate victors were defence contractors, Ratner told IPS, “Yes, surely the arms industry plays a role in wanting to sell more and more arms, but so does ideology and a country, the United States, that still remains, as Martin Luther King said, the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

According to the Washington-based Defence News, U.S arms sales to Iraq last year included 681 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and 40 truck-mounted launchers, Sentinel radars, three Hawk anti-aircraft batteries with 216 Hawk missiles, 50 Stryker infantry carriers, 12 helicopters, and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of maintenance and logistical support for thousands of U.S.-made military vehicles.

Additionally, Washington has also struck arms deals for the sale of Hellfire missiles, M1A1 Abrams battle tanks, machine guns, sniper rifles, grenades and ammunition – all worth billions of dollars.

How much of this will wind up with ISIL forces is anybody’s guess.

Goldring told IPS the U.S. government, once again, appears to have been slow to learn important lessons about the unintended consequences of its actions in the Middle East.

Having made a significant mistake by invading Iraq in 2003, the U.S. government recently compounded its error by presuming that the Iraqi military would be able to defend the country, she noted. As the Iraqi military collapses, the weaponry the U.S. military left behind is now finding its way to Islamic State militants.

Too often, she said, the U.S. government sells or gives weapons away in an attempt to attain short-term political or military gains.

“A policy reassessment that gives much more weight to the long-term risks that accompany open-ended transfers of weapons around the world is long overdue,” said Goldring.

“In addition, as by far the world’s largest arms exporter, the United States has a special responsibility to refrain from transferring weapons when they are likely to be used to violate international human rights and humanitarian law.”

She said excessive weapons flows vastly increase the risk of blowback, in which U.S. weapons may be used against its own military personnel. In theory, military contractors could profit from the market for replacing the captured weapons.

“But in reality, even though the contractors might benefit financially, it could be a public relations disaster for manufacturers if their weapons were used against U.S. military personnel,” Goldring said.

It is likely, she said, that a press account would mention the supplier early on in any account of U.S. weapons being used against our own personnel.

Ratner pointed out the United States did likewise in Libya supporting and arming some of the very forces that attacked the U.S. embassy in Benghazi. The invasion of Iraq was also a war crime, killing untold numbers in that country and unleashing violence throughout the region.

“Selling arms to Iraq for American companies was as easy as selling candy to little kids – and billions in weapons were sold to a country that had become, because of U.S. actions, unstable at its core,” he said.

Ratner said the United States allowed itself to believe it was really training an army when it was in fact training a kleptocracy. “No country with any sense would have loaded up the Iraq army with such weaponry. And the expected happened.”

As the U.S. backed an “awful sectarian president” in Iraq, he said, violence increased and weapons were everywhere – almost free for the taking. “So, ISIS and presumably other factions and groups are now well armed with U.S. weapons,” Ratner said.

As for arming the Kurds, that will be interesting, he said. “Will those weapons be turned on Turkey and what will the outcome of that war be?” he asked.

“Until and unless the U.S. understands that the answer to the world’s problems is not war and that arming the world will lead the U.S. to continuous wars and kill millions of innocent, we will not see an end to an increasingly unstable world.”

As was said by the prophet Hosea: They that sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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