Inter Press Service » North America http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 22 Dec 2014 21:25:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 What the U.S. Should Learn from Russia’s Collapsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-the-u-s-should-learn-from-russias-collapse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-the-u-s-should-learn-from-russias-collapse http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-the-u-s-should-learn-from-russias-collapse/#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2014 12:35:18 +0000 Miriam Pemberton http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138354 Oil pumps in southern Russia. Photo: Gennadiy Kolodkin/World Bank

Oil pumps in southern Russia. Photo: Gennadiy Kolodkin/World Bank

By Miriam Pemberton
WASHINGTON, Dec 20 2014 (IPS)

After months of whispered warnings, Russia’s economic troubles made global headlines when its currency collapsed halfway through December. Amid the tumbling price of oil, the ruble has fallen to record lows, bringing the country to its most serious economic crisis since the late 1990s.

Topping most lists of reasons for the collapse is Russia’s failure to diversify its economy. At least some of the flaws in its strategy of putting all those eggs in that one oil-and-gas basket are now in full view.Moscow’s failure to move beyond economic structures dominated by first military production, and now by fossil fuels, can serve as a cautionary tale and call to action.

Once upon a time, Russia did actually try some diversification — back before the oil and gas “solution” came to seem like such a good idea. It was during those tumultuous years when history was pushing the Soviet Union into its grave. Central planners began scrambling to convert portions of the vast state enterprise of military production — the enterprise that had so bankrupted the empire — to produce the consumer goods that Soviet citizens had long gone without.

One day the managers of a Soviet tank plant, for example, received a directive to convert their production lines to produce shoes. The timetable was: do it today. They didn’t succeed.

Economic development experts agree that the time to diversify is not after an economic shock, but before it. Scrambling is no way to manage a transition to new economic activity. Since the bloodless end to the Cold War was foreseen by almost nobody, significant planning for an economic transition in advance wasn’t really in the cards.

But now, in the United States at least, it is. Currently the country is in the first stage of a modest defence downsizing. We’re about a third of the way through the 10-year framework of defence cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Assuming Congress doesn’t scale back this plan or even dismantle it altogether, the resulting downsizing will still be the shallowest in U.S. history. It’s a downsizing of the post-9/11 surge, during which Pentagon spending nearly doubled. So the cuts will still leave a U.S. military budget higher, adjusting for inflation, than it was during nearly every year of the Cold War — back when we had an actual adversary, the aforementioned Soviet Union, that was trying to match us dollar for military dollar.

Now, no such adversary exists. Thinking of China? Not even close: The United States spends about six times as much on its military as Beijing.

Even so, the U.S. defence industry’s modest contraction is being felt in communities across the country. By the end of the 10-year cuts, many more communities will be affected. This is the time for those communities that are dependent on Pentagon contracts to work on strategies to reduce this vulnerability. To get ahead of the curve.

There is actually Pentagon money available for this purpose. Its Office of Economic Adjustment exists to give planning grants and technical assistance to communities recognising the need to diversify.

As we in the United States struggle to understand what’s going on in Russia and how to respond to it, at least one thing is clear: Moscow’s failure to move beyond economic structures dominated by first military production, and now by fossil fuels, can serve as a cautionary tale and call to action.

Diversified economies are stronger. They take time and planning. Wait to diversify until the bottom falls out of your existing economic base, and your chances for a smooth transition decline precipitously. Turning an economy based on making tanks into one that makes shoes can’t be done in a day.

This story originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Day Anti-Castro Forces Tried to Bomb the U.N.http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-day-anti-castro-forces-tried-to-bomb-the-u-n/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-day-anti-castro-forces-tried-to-bomb-the-u-n http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-day-anti-castro-forces-tried-to-bomb-the-u-n/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 00:29:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138337 Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Minister of Industries of Cuba, addresses the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1964. UN Photo/TC

Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Minister of Industries of Cuba, addresses the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1964. UN Photo/TC

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 19 2014 (IPS)

When the politically-charismatic Ernesto Che Guevera, once second-in-command to Cuban leader Fidel Castro, was at the United Nations to address the General Assembly sessions back in 1964, the U.N. headquarters came under attack – literally.

The speech by the Argentine-born Marxist revolutionary was momentarily drowned by the sound of an explosion.

The anti-Castro forces in the United States, backed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), had mounted an insidious campaign to stop Che Guevera from speaking.

A 3.5-inch bazooka was fired at the 39-storeyed glass house by the East River while a CIA-inspired anti-Castro, anti-Che Guevara vociferous demonstration was taking place outside the U.N. building on New York’s First Avenue and 42nd street.

First Phase Digital

Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Minister of Industries of Cuba, addresses the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1964. UN Photo/TC

But the rocket launcher – which was apparently not as sophisticated as today’s shoulder-fired missiles and rocket-propelled grenades – missed its target, rattled windows, and fell into the river about 200 yards from the building.

One newspaper report described it as “one of the wildest episodes since the United Nations moved into its East River headquarters in 1952.”

With the United States resuming full diplomatic relations with Cuba on Wednesday – after a 53-year hiatus – will there be a significant change in its attitude towards the politically-ostracised Caribbean nation in the world body?

The United States has routinely led or co-sponsored scores of U.N. resolutions critical of human rights violations in Cuba and consistently voted against every single General Assembly resolution calling on Washington to lift the economic embargo on Havana imposed in 1960.

At the last General Assembly vote in October 2014, an overwhelming majority – 188 out of 193 members – voted to end the embargo, for the 23rd consecutive year.

As in most previous years, the only two countries to vote against the resolution were the United States and Israel.

And three other countries that have traditionally voted with the United States – Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands – abstained on the vote this year.

After the vote, and as if anticipating a change in the political horizon, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez invited the United States to establish “mutually respectful relations.”

“We can try to find a solution to our differences through respectful diplomacy. We can live and deal with each other in a civilised way despite our difference,” he added.

Asked about the historic U.S.-Cuba agreement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had been informed in advance of the announcement by the U.S. government.

“This news is very positive. And I’d like to thank President Barack Obama of the United States and Cuban President Raul Castro for taking this very important step towards normalising relations,” Ban said.

“As much of the membership of the United Nations has repeatedly emphasised, through General Assembly resolutions during the last many, many years, it is time Cuba and the United States normalise their bilateral relations,” Ban told reporters Wednesday.

“The United Nations stands ready to help both countries to cultivate their good neighbourly relations,” he declared.

As longtime U.N. staffers would recall, the failed 1964 attack on the U.N. building took place when Che Guevera launched a blistering attack on U.S. foreign policy and denounced a proposed de-nuclearisation pact for the Western hemisphere, as he addressed delegates.

It was one of the first known politically motivated terrorist attacks on the United Nations.

After his Assembly speech, Che Guevera was asked about the attack aimed at him. “The explosion has given the whole thing more flavour,” he joked, as he chomped on his Cuban cigar.

When he was told by a reporter that the New York City police had nabbed a woman, described as an anti-Castro Cuban exile, who had pulled out a hunting knife and jumped over the wall, intending to kill him, Che Guevera said: “It is better to be killed by a woman with a knife than by a man with a gun.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.S. Flag Can Be Seen Again in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-flag-can-be-seen-again-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-flag-can-be-seen-again-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-flag-can-be-seen-again-in-cuba/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:51:53 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138335 The U.S. and Cuban flags adorn a bicycle-taxi in Havana, a few hours after the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which were broken off in 1961. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The U.S. and Cuban flags adorn a bicycle-taxi in Havana, a few hours after the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which were broken off in 1961. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

The announcement that the United States and Cuba would reestablish diplomatic relations took most Cubans by surprise. Over half of the population was born after the severing of ties in 1961 and the start of the embargo that has marked their lives.

“I wasn’t expecting it; it’s the news of the century and a step that will put in gear many changes,” a journalist who has followed the question for years told IPS.

Groups of university students took to the streets on Wednesday to celebrate the return of the three Cuban agents serving out lengthy sentences in U.S. prisons on charges of spying.

A U.S. contractor serving time in a Cuban prison, Alan Gross, was also released. His arrest and sentencing to 15 years in prison on charges of involvement in subversive plans in Cuba was seen by Washington as a major hurdle to the normalisation of relations with Havana.

Nor was the Cuban government willing to move in that direction unless the Cuban agents were freed.

Antonio Guerrero, whose sentence ended in 2017; Ramón Labañino, sentenced to 30 years; and Gerardo Hernández, who had been given two life sentences, arrived in Havana on Wednesday.

The other two members of the group known as “the Cuban five”, René González and Fernando González (no relation), had served out their sentences and have been back in Cuba since 2013 and February of this year, respectively.

In a televised speech – broadcast simultaneously with U.S. President Barack Obama’s address in Washington – President Raúl Castro said that his openness to dialogue with the U.S. gave continuity to his brother Fidel’s (president from 1959 to 2008) willingness to negotiate.

Observers see that statement as targeting segments of society and even within the government who could be opposed to the normalisation of relations. “The conflict with the United States, and especially the embargo, has served for decades to justify our shortcomings,” a researcher who wished to remain anonymous told IPS.

The reestablishment of diplomatic ties does not include the lifting of the trade and economic embargo against Cuba, a decision that is up to the U.S. Congress. But Castro urged Obama to “modify its application by use of his executive powers.”

More than seven million people in this country of 11.2 million were born under the embargo.

But the move towards normal relations with Cuba’s powerful neighbor only 90 miles away will pose enormous challenges to this country’s socialist development model, which Castro says he will not abandon.

Luis Emilio Aybar, a sociologist, says Cuba should follow a pragmatic policy of economic and political ties like the ones it has with many other countries, while maintaining its “alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist policies” – but without forgetting that the U.S. will continue to be the main enemy of this form of government.

Vulnerability to different kinds of foreign influences “will now be multiplied manyfold, and will be added to the loss of hegemony that socialist values are suffering in our country. The U.S. government understands the situation clearly; that’s why it took this step,” said Aybar, who believes the solution to the dilemma “lies in understanding that you can be pragmatic and radical at the same time.”

Rita María García Morris, executive director of the independent Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue, said it was important for civil society institutions to keep their doors open to a conciliatory dialogue, even if it is difficult and painful. “It has never been easy to acknowledge differences,” she said.

The reforms undertaken by the government of Raúl Castro, such as an expansion of private enterprise and a new foreign investment law, enabled the government to optimise relations with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean and with traditional allies like China and Russia, and to renew negotiations with the European Union.

Havana and Brussels are involved in talks towards a political and cooperation agreement that would further diversify the diplomatic ties of the Cuban government, which is keen on drawing larger flows of investment to ensure growth, particularly in the Mariel special economic development zone.

Against that backdrop, the United States appeared to be increasingly isolated in its stance towards Cuba, which was officially invited to take part in the next Summit of the Americas, in Panama in April, despite Washington’s resistance. Now that things have changed, Castro and Obama will be able to use that occasion to strengthen the direct dialogue that they began with a phone conversation on Tuesday Dec. 16.

Pope Francis’s mediation in the process that led to the new relations between the U.S. and Cuba did not come as a surprise, given the dialogue in recent years between Castro and the Catholic Church leadership in Cuba, which helped bring about the release of several dozen political prisoners.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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After 53 Years, Obama to Normalise Ties with Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 00:59:03 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138317 Obama speaks on video about changes in Washington's Cuba policy.

Obama speaks on video about changes in Washington's Cuba policy.

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

In perhaps his boldest foreign-policy move during his presidency, Barack Obama Wednesday announced that he intends to establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba.

While the president noted that he lacked the authority to lift the 54-year-old trade embargo against Havana, he issued directives that will permit more U.S. citizens to travel there and third-country subsidiaries of U.S. companies to engage in commerce, among other measures, including launching a review of whether Havana should remain on the U.S. list of “state sponsors of terrorism”."The Cuba issue has sharply divided Washington from the rest of the hemsiphere for decades, and this move, long overdue, goes a long way towards removing a major source of irritation in US-Latin American relations." -- Michael Shifter

He also said he looked forward to engaging Congress in “an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.”

“In the most significant changes in our policy in more than 50 years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalise relations between our two countries,” he said in a nationally televised announcement.

“Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.”

The announcement, which was preceded by a secret, 45-minute telephone conversation Tuesday morning between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, drew both praise from those who have long argued that Washington’s pursuit of Cuba’s isolation has been a total failure and bitter denunciations from right-wing Republicans.

Some of the latter had vowed, among other things, to oppose any effort to lift the embargo, open U.S. embassy in Havana, or confirm a U.S. ambassador to serve there. (Washington has had an Interest Section in the Cuban capital since 1977.)

“Today’s announcement initiating a dramatic change in U.S. policy is just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all costs,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, one of a number of fiercely anti-Castro Cuban-American lawmakers and a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

“I intend to use my role as incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuba people’s expense,” he said in a statement.

The outgoing Democratic chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, also decried Obama’s announcement.

“The United States has just thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline. With the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, Cuba is losing its main benefactor, but will now receive the support of the United States, the greatest democracy in the world,” said Menendez, who is also Cuban American.

But other lawmakers hailed the announcement.

“Today President Obama and President Raul Castro made history,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a senior Democrat and one of three lawmakers, including a Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who escorted a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor, Alan Gross, from Havana Wednesday morning as part of a larger prisoner and spy swap that precipitated the announcement.

Part of that deal included the release of 53 prisoners in Cuba, including Gross, who the U.S. considers to be political prisoners.

“Those who cling to a failed policy [and] …may oppose the President’s actions have nothing to offer but more of the same. That would serve neither the interests of the United States and its people, nor of the Cuban people,” Leahy said. “It is time for a change.”

Other analysts also lauded Obama’s Wednesday’s developments, comparing them to historic breakthroughs with major foreign-policy consequences.

“Obama has chosen to change the entire framework of the relationship, as [former President Richard] Nixon did when he travelled to China,” said William LeoGrande, a veteran Cuba scholar at American University, in an email from Havana.

“Many issues remain to be resolved, but the new direction of U.S. policy is clear.”

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based hemispheric think tank that has long urged Washington to normalise ties with Havana, told IPS the regional implications would likely be very positive.

“Obama’s decision will be cheered and applauded throughout Latin America. The Cuba issue has sharply divided Washington from the rest of the hemsiphere for decades, and this move, long overdue, goes a long way towards removing a major source of irritation in US-Latin American relations,” Shifter said.

“Since his sensible and lofty rhetoric at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, Latin Americans wondered where Obama has been in recent years.”

Indeed, Obama also announced Wednesday that he will attend the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. Because Castro was officially invited, over the objections of both the U.S. and Canada, at the last Summit in Cartagena in 2012, there had been some speculation that Obama might boycott the proceedings.

Harvard international relations expert Stephen Walt said he hoped that Wednesday’s announcement portends additional bold moves by Obama on the world stage in his last two years as president despite the control of both houses of Congress by Republicans, like Rubio, who have opposed Obama’s efforts to reach out to perceived adversaries.

“One may hope that this decision will be followed by renewed efforts to restore full diplomatic relations with even more important countries, most notably Iran,” he told IPS in an email.

“Recognition does not imply endorsing a foreign government’s policies; it simply acknowledges that U.S. interests are almost always well-served by regular contact with allies and adversaries alike.”

Administration officials told reporters that Wednesday’s developments were made possible by 18 months of secret talks between senior official from both sides – not unlike those carried out in Oman between the U.S. and Iran prior to their November 2013 agreement with five other world powers on Tehran’s nuclear programme — hosted primarily by Canada and the Vatican, although the Interests Sections of both countries were also involved.

Officials credited Pope Francis, an Argentine, with a key role in prodding both parties toward an accord.

“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history,” the Vatican said in a statement Wednesday.

The Vatican’s strong endorsement could mute some of the Republican and Cuban-American criticism of normalisation and make it more difficult for Rubio and his colleagues to prevent the establishment of an embassy and appointment of an ambassador, according to some Capitol Hill staff.

Similarly, major U.S. corporations, some of whom, particularly in the agribusiness and consumer-goods sectors, have seen major market potential in Cuba, are likely to lobby their allies on the Republican side.

“We deeply believe that an open dialogue and commercial exchange between the U.S. and Cuban private sectors will bring shared benefits, and the steps announced today will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish,” said Thomas Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a statement.

Donohue headed what he called an unprecedented “exploratory” trip to Cuba earlier this year.

“Congress now has a decision to make,” said Jake Colvin, the vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, an association of many of the world’s biggest multi-national corporations. “It can either show that politics stops at the water’s edge, or insist that the walls of the Cold War still exist.”

Wednesday’s announcement came in the wake of an extraordinary series of editorials by the New York Times through this autumn in favour of normalisation and the lifting of the trade embargo.

In another sign of a fundamental shift here, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose husband Bill took some steps to ease the embargo during his tenure as president, disclosed in her book published last summer that she had urged Obama to “take another look at our embargo. It wasn’t achieving its goals, and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America.”

That stance, of course, could alienate some Cuban-American opinion, especially in the critical “swing state” of Florida if Clinton runs in the 2016 election.

But recent polls of Cuban Americans have suggested an important generational change in attitudes toward Cuba and normalisation within the Cuban-American community, with the younger generation favouring broader ties with their homeland.

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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Dirty Energy Reliance Undercuts U.S., Canada Rhetoric at Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/dirty-energy-reliance-undercuts-u-s-canada-rhetoric-at-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dirty-energy-reliance-undercuts-u-s-canada-rhetoric-at-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/dirty-energy-reliance-undercuts-u-s-canada-rhetoric-at-climate-talks/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 14:53:53 +0000 Leehi Yona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138270 Young protesters at the U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru highlight out-of-touch North American energy policies. Credit: Adopt a Negotiator.

Young protesters at the U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru highlight out-of-touch North American energy policies. Credit: Adopt a Negotiator.

By Leehi Yona
LIMA, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

While U.S. and Canadian officials delivered speeches about how the world needs to step up to their responsibilities at the U.N. climate negotiations in Lima, Peru, activists from North America demanded clear answers back home on their governments’ relationships with fossil fuel corporations, as well as the future of several major oil projects across the continent.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke Thursday about the role each country should play on tackling climate change and referred to the U.S.-China agreement announced in November. The agreement, which pledged unforeseen emissions reductions for both countries, has been lauded by many countries as a progressive step forward at the U.N. negotiations.“Under Stephen Harper, Canada has no climate policy beyond public relations.” -- Canadian MP Elizabeth May

However, civil society delegates have expressed concern over the disconnect between the messaging the United States has been taking in Lima, and its domestic fossil fuel reliance.

This international discourse collides with Washington’s hesitance to repeal the Keystone XL pipeline, a proposed project that would transport over 800,000 barrels of bitumen a day from the Alberta tar sands to Texas oil refineries.

“The best way the U.S. can support progress in the U.N. Climate Talks is to start at home by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline now,” said Dyanna Jaye, a U.S. youth delegate attending the conference with SustainUS.

TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has been stalled in political procedures since 2011. Once considered to be a done deal, the project has grown to be a bone of contention among environmental groups, who have mobilised to put pressure on President Barack Obama to reject it.

Having been presented as a bill to Congress numerous times, it most recently passed a House of Representatives vote but failed in the Senate by only one vote on Nov. 5.

Youth have taken a leading role on been pushing for Kerry to reject Keystone XL, shining a spotlight on the influence of the fossil fuel industry in hindering progress.

Following Kerry’s speech to the U.N. on Thursday, Jaye and other U.S. and Canadian youth activists organised an action in protest of proposed pipelines through the two countries.

Calling for the industry to be kicked out of the negotiations, youth have highlighted that a successful deal in Lima would necessitate a phasing out of fossil fuel use to zero production by 2050, as stated in a World Wildlife Fund report.

“Dirty fossil fuel projects like Keystone XL clearly fail the climate test,” Evan Weber, executive director of US Climate Plan, told IPS. “We’ll be drawing the line on any new fossil fuel infrastructure and calling for investment in renewable energy solutions.”

Protesters emphasised the need for domestic action at home in order for there to be any progress at the United Nations

The United States, however, isn’t the only country whose domestic issues directly contradict their statements here at COP20. The Canadian government has been criticised for their lack of domestic ambition and their close relationship with fossil fuel companies at this conference.

At the talks, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq stated on Dec. 9 that Canada is “confident [they] can achieve a climate agreement” at these talks, “however it will require courage and common sense.”

While the government has attempted to portray itself as a climate leader in these negotiations, members of civil society have pointed out discrepancies between the emissions goals they are promising and the emissions trajectory the country is actually on track to produce.

“Under Stephen Harper, Canada has no climate policy beyond public relations,” said Elizabeth May, a Canadian Member of Parliament and leader of the Canadian Green Party attending COP 20.

“The zeal to exploit fossil fuels has led to the evisceration of ‎environmental laws. We have distorted our economy in the interests of exporting bitumen,” she told IPS.

Canada has once again entered into the non-governmental spotlight at U.N. climate negotiations. On Tuesday, uproar ensued when Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that any regulation of the oil and gas industry would be “crazy” considering the industry’s current financial state.

On the conference’s last day, Canada was also awarded a Fossil of the Day, a daily non-prize awarded by civil society during the Climate Talks to the most regressive country, for its consistent meddling with and lack of participation in the U.N. process.

“As members of civil society, we’ve seen Canadian negotiators prioritise fossil fuel companies over public interest time and time again in Lima,” Catherine Gauthier of ENvironnement JEUnesse, a Québec youth environmental organisation, told IPS.

Both countries have come under scrutiny for their promotion of climate action on the international level while promoting tar sands expansion and shale gas fracking projects at home. Shale gas has particularly been promoted by both governments as a bridge fuel to help wean societies off fossil fuels with the goal of increasing renewable energy sources.

“The use of fracking as a bridge fuel is the biggest lie the American public has ever been fed,” Emily Williams of the California Student Sustainability Coalition told IPS. “It poisons our health and our communities, and destroys our environment. It cannot be part of the climate solution as it starves the renewable energy revolution of the investment it needs.”

Both Canada and the United States have been active in calling for swift action on the international level when it comes to climate change. The U.N. negotiations are currently running over time in Lima as countries work towards a compromise agreement.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Faulted for Undermining Torture Conventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/us-faulted-for-undermining-torture-convention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-faulted-for-undermining-torture-convention http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/us-faulted-for-undermining-torture-convention/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 01:26:36 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138224 Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, recently appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, notes that few countries will admit their state apparatus has been practising torture, even when the scars are all too visible on the victims who manage to escape. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, recently appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, notes that few countries will admit their state apparatus has been practising torture, even when the scars are all too visible on the victims who manage to escape. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 11 2014 (IPS)

The timing was inadvertently impeccable as two stinging reports on harsh interrogation techniques – by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the United States and former military regimes in Brazil – were released on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

Not surprisingly, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric was peppered – and metaphorically tortured – with a barrage of non-stop questions on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s response to the charges."They knew they were outside the lines, they concealed it from their own people, and yet no one will be held accountable." -- Prof. Vijay Prashad

“The secretary-general believes the prohibition of torture [by the U.N. convention] was absolute and non-negotiable,” Dujarric told reporters at Wednesday’s noon briefing.

But the questions seemed never ending – even as he refused to be pinned down.

“No, I do not believe the secretary-general had direct communication with anyone in the U.S. administration [after the report was released Tuesday].”

“No, no one is taking the report as gospel. And it is not for the secretary-general to say it is a definitive report,” he shot back. “There is an open debate – and this is the start of a process,” he added.

The release of the two reports – by a U.S. Senate committee on the CIA’s interrogation tactics, and also the systematic human rights violations in Brazil as revealed in a report by the country’s National Truth Commission – also coincided with Human Rights Day, which the United Nations commemorates annually on Dec. 10.

“Strange coincidence indeed,” Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, told IPS.

He said the report by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee shows they were well aware the revelations “stink”.

“There is a very telling section [in the report] where they say that [then U.S. Secretary of State] Colin Powell must not be informed, because if he is, he would blow his stack,” said Prashad, who has written extensively on international politics and is the author of 15 books.

“They knew they were outside the lines, they concealed it from their own people, and yet no one will be held accountable,” he added.

The United States ratified the 1987 U.N. Convention Against Torture back in October 1994 and Brazil in September 1989.

Responding to the two reports, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, urged the U.N.’s 193 member states to act unequivocally in their effort to stamp out torture.

He said the U.S. report shows torture is still taking place in quite a few of the 156 countries that have ratified the Convention and have domestic legislation making torture illegal.

“To have it so clearly confirmed that it was recently practised as a matter of policy by a country such as the United States is a very stark reminder that we need to do far, far more to stamp it out everywhere,” he continued.

This has been true at the best of times, he added.

It is particularly true during this period of rising international terrorism, when it has shown a tendency to slither back into practice, disguised by euphemisms, even in countries where it is clearly outlawed, said Zeid, a former permanent representative of Jordan to the United Nations.

However, he “warmly welcomed” the publication of the Senate Committee’s summary report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Programme, as well as the report of Brazil’s National Truth Commission which documents the extensive use of torture, among other gross and systematic human rights violations, over a 42-year period, including the 1964-85 military dictatorship.

The Brazilian Commission, which was established in May 2012, investigated the serious human rights violations that occurred between 1946 and 1988 – the period between the last two democratic constitutions in Brazil.

These violations include unlawful imprisonment and torture; sexual violence; executions and subsequent concealing of corpses; and enforced disappearances.

“When practiced massively and systematically against a population, these violations become a crime against humanity,” the report said.

The report on the CIA said terrorist suspects, after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, were subjected to sleep deprivation (as long as a week), water-boarding, rectal-hydration, with some prisoners “literally hooked like a dog that had been kenneled.”

The CIA defended its techniques by arguing that its brutal treatment of suspects was aimed at protecting the country from further terrorist attacks.

Zeid said: “Although there are very significant differences between these two exceptionally important reports, not least in their scope and the periods they cover, I commend the governments of Brazil and the United States for enabling their release.”

Few countries, he pointed out, will admit their state apparatus has been practising torture, and many continue shamelessly to deny it – even when it is well documented by international human rights treaty bodies, and the scars are all too visible on the victims who manage to escape.

“While it will take time to fully analyse the contents of these two landmark reports – and I do not wish to pre-empt that analysis – we can still draw some stark conclusions about the failures to eradicate this serious international crime, for which there should be no statute of limitations and no impunity,” Zeid declared.

He also said one question neither report can answer on its own is how both countries will fulfil their obligation to ensure accountability for the crimes that have been committed.

In all countries, he pointed out, if someone commits murder, they are prosecuted and jailed. If they commit rape or armed robbery, they are prosecuted and jailed.

“If they order, enable or commit torture recognized as a serious international crime they cannot simply be granted impunity because of political expediency.”

When that happens, he said, “we undermine this exceptional Convention, and as a number of U.S. political leaders clearly acknowledged yesterday, we undermine our own claims to be civilized societies rooted in the rule of law.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Groups Push Obama to Clarify U.S. Abortion Funding for Wartime Rapehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/groups-push-obama-to-clarify-u-s-abortion-funding-for-wartime-rape/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=groups-push-obama-to-clarify-u-s-abortion-funding-for-wartime-rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/groups-push-obama-to-clarify-u-s-abortion-funding-for-wartime-rape/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:49:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138188 Survivors at a workshop in Pader, northern Uganda. Thousands of women were raped during Uganda’s civil war but there have been few government efforts to assist them. Credit: Rosebell Kagumire/IPS

Survivors at a workshop in Pader, northern Uganda. Thousands of women were raped during Uganda’s civil war but there have been few government efforts to assist them. Credit: Rosebell Kagumire/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Nearly two dozen health, advocacy and faith groups are calling on President Barack Obama to take executive action clarifying that U.S. assistance can be used to fund abortion services for women and girls raped in the context of war and conflict.

The groups gathered Tuesday outside of the White House to draw attention to what they say is an ongoing misreading by politicians as well as humanitarian groups of four-decade-old legislation. That law, known as the Helms Amendment, specifies women’s health services that can be supported by U.S. overseas funding."We want to prevent these acts but also, when that violence does occur, to make sure that organisations and government agencies are providing the necessary post-rape care, including legal and social services, as well as mental and physical health services. Abortion services need to be part of that package.” -- Serra Sippel

This mis-interpretation, advocates warn, results in ongoing mental suffering, social disgrace and even additional abuse for women who have been raped.

“For over 40 years, the Helms Amendment has been applied as a complete ban on abortion care in U.S.-funded global health programmes – with no exceptions,” Purnima Mane, the president of Pathfinder International, a group that works on global sexual health issues, said in comments sent to IPS.

“The result is that Pathfinder and other U.S. government-funded agencies are unable to provide critical abortion care services to those at risk even under circumstances upheld by U.S. law and clearly allowable under the Helms Amendment. With the stroke of a pen, President Obama can change the outcome for many of these women and start to reverse more than four decades of neglect of their basic human rights and harm to their health.”

Advocates say such an executive action would be in line with both the law and broader public opinion. Indeed, on the face of it, the Helms Amendment seems to be quite clear.

The amendment bans U.S. funding from being used to “pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning” or to “motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” While the law does not specifically bar U.S. assistance being used for abortion services in the case of rape, critics have long noted that this has been the impact since the start.

“No U.S. administration has ever implemented this correctly, in terms of making exemptions in certain instances,” Serra Sippel, the president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and a key organiser of Tuesday’s demonstration, told IPS.

“This comes down to politics and the political environment in Washington. But what we need is for the president to take leadership and direct USAID” – the federal government’s main foreign assistance agency – “and the State Department to say the U.S. government is taking a stand and supporting access to abortion in these cases.”

Misinterpretation, self-censorship

Abortion has been, and remains, one of the most divisive issues in U.S. politics. By many metrics, this polarisation has only worsened with time.

This came to the cultural and political forefront in 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark decision that a state law banning abortion (except to save the mother’s life) was unconstitutional. The ruling resulted in a lasting moral outrage among broad sections of the U.S. public, though polls suggest that a majority of those in the United States support services following rape, incest or when a mother’s life is at risk.

The Helms Amendment was among the first legislative responses to the court’s ruling, passed just months later. Since then, the amendment has resulted in a discontinuation of U.S. assistance for all abortion services in other countries.

It is important to note that these procedures remain legal in the United States, as well as in many of the countries in which U.S.-funded entities, including government departments, are operating. Humanitarian groups often feel they cannot even make abortion-related information available to women, including those raped during conflict – even if the Helms Amendment doesn’t specifically proscribe doing so.

“These restrictions, collectively, have resulted in a perception that U.S. foreign policy on abortion is more onerous than the actual law … [leading to] a pervasive atmosphere of confusion, misunderstanding and inhibition around other abortion-related activities beyond direct services,” analysis published last year by the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual health-focused think tank here, reports.

“Wittingly or unwittingly, both NGOs and U.S. officials have been transgressors and victims alike in the misinterpretation and misapplication of U.S. anti-abortion law … whether through misinterpretation or self-censorship, NGOs are needlessly refraining from providing abortion counseling or referrals.”

Global statistics on conflict-time rapes and resulting pregnancies are hard to come by. Human Rights Watch points to 2004 research carried out in Liberia, where rape was used as a weapon of war, suggesting that around 15 percent of wartime rapes led to pregnancy.

“Human rights practitioners and public health officials from Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and other countries at war, have collected evidence from conflict rape survivors showing both that pregnancy happens and that it has devastating consequences for women and girls,” Liesl Gerntholtz, the executive director of a Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division, wrote Tuesday.

“They are left to continue unwanted pregnancies and bear children they often cannot care for and who are daily reminders of the brutal attacks they suffered. This, in turn, makes these children more vulnerable to stigmatization, abuse, and abandonment.”

Global acknowledgment

On Tuesday, the groups participating in the White House demonstration also called on President Obama to clarify that the Helms Amendment does not apply to pregnancies resulting from incest or if the mother’s life is at risk. Yet the focus of the calls remains on rape in the context of war and conflict.

Advocates say public consciousness on this issue has risen significantly over the past year and a half. To a great extent, this has been driven by the conflict in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State, as well as the ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the centrality of sexual violence in each of these.

“We know that rape has been used as a weapon of war throughout history. What’s new is the attention from governments and advocates over the past 18 months,” CHANGE’s Sippel says.

“The prevention of violence cannot stand alone. We want to prevent these acts but also, when that violence does occur, to make sure that organisations and government agencies are providing the necessary post-rape care, including legal and social services, as well as mental and physical health services. Abortion services need to be part of that package.”

The United States has been a strong global advocate against sexual violence in recent years, including with regard to conflict situations. President Obama has created the first U.S. action plan on women’s role in peace-building, a White House strategy on gender-based violence, among other actions.

Advocates say that clarifying the Helms Amendment would be the next logical step. Although the White House was unable to comment for this story, organisers of Tuesday’s rally say President Obama’s aides did meet with advocates working on sexual violence in Colombia, the DRC and elsewhere.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Release of Senate Torture Report Insufficient, Say Rights Groupshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/release-of-senate-torture-report-insufficient-say-rights-groups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=release-of-senate-torture-report-insufficient-say-rights-groups http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/release-of-senate-torture-report-insufficient-say-rights-groups/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:24:05 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138185 Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive interrogation techniques provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive interrogation techniques provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Tuesday’s release by the Senate Intelligence Committee of its long-awaited report on the torture by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of detainees in the so-called “war on terror” does not go far enough, according to major U.S. human rights groups.

While welcoming the report’s release, the subject of months of intensive negotiations and sometimes furious negotiations between the Senate Committee’s majority and both the CIA and the administration of President Barack Obama, the groups said additional steps were needed to ensure that U.S. officials never again engage in the kind of torture detailed in the report."Their actions destroyed trust in clinicians, undermined the integrity of their professions, and damaged the United States’ human rights record, which can only be corrected through accountability." -- Donna McKay of PHR

“This should be the beginning of a process, not the end,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “The report should shock President Obama and Congress into action, to make sure that torture and cruelty are never used again.”

He called, among other steps, for the appointment of a special prosecutor to hold the “architects and perpetrators” of what the George W. Bush administration called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) accountable and for Congress to assert its control over the CIA, “which in this report sounds more like a rogue paramilitary group than the intelligence gathering agency that it’s supposed to be.”

He was joined by London-based Amnesty International which noted that the declassified information provided in the report constituted “a reminder to the world of the utter failure of the USA to end the impunity enjoyed by those who authorised and used torture and other ill-treatment.

“This is a wake-up call to the USA; they must disclose the full truth about the human rights violations, hold perpetrators accountable and ensure justice for the victims,” said Amnesty’s Latin America director, Erika Guevara.

The Senate Committee’s report, actually a 524-page, partially-redacted summary of a still-classified 6,300-page report on the treatment of at least 119 terrorist suspects detained in secret locations overseas, accused the CIA not only of engaging in torture that was “brutal and far worse” than has previously been reported, but also of regularly misleading the White House and Congress both about what it was doing and the purported value of the intelligence it derived from those practices.

Water-boarding, for example, was used against detainees more often and in more of the CIA’s “black sites” than previously known; sleep deprivation was used for up to a week at a time against some suspects; others received “rectal feeding” or “hydration’; and still others were forced to stand on broken feet or legs.

In at least one case, a detainee was frozen to death; in the case of Abu Zubayda, an alleged “high-value” Al Qaeda detainee who was subject to dozens of water-boardings, the treatment was so brutal, several CIA officers asked to be transferred if it did not stop.

While the CIA officers and former Bush administration officials, notably former Vice President Dick Cheney, have long insisted that key information – including intelligence that eventually led to the killing of Osama bin Laden — was obtained from EITs, the report concluded that these techniques were ineffective.

Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive EITs provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report, which relied on the CIA’s own cables and reports.

In some cases, detainees subjected to EITs gave misinformation about “terrorist threats” which did not actually exist, the report found. Of the 119 known detainees subject to EITs, at least 26 should never have been held, it said.

Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, who fought hard for months to release the report over the CIA’s fierce objections, wrote in its Forward that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks, “she could understand the CIA’s impulse to consider the use of every possible tool to gather intelligence and remove terrorists from the battlefield, and CIA was encouraged by political leaders and the public to do whatever it could to prevent another attack.”

“Nevertheless, such pressure, fear and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security,” according to Feinstein.

For his part, CIA director John Brennan, a career CIA officer appointed by Obama whose role in the Bush administration’s detention programme remains cloudy, “acknowledge(d) that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the Agency made mistakes.”

“The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qa’ida and affiliated terrorists.”

But he also defended the EITs, insisting that “interrogations of detainees on whom EITs were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.” A fact sheet released by the CIA claimed, as an example, that one detainee, after undergoing EITs, identified bin Laden’s courier, which subsequently led the CIA to the Al Qaeda chief’s location.

With several notable exceptions, Republicans also defended the CIA and the Bush administration’s orders to permit EITs. Indeed, the Intelligence Committee’s Republican members released a minority report that noted that the majority of staff had not interviewed any CIA officers directly involved in the programme.

“There is no reason whatsoever for this report to ever be published,” said the Committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss. “This is purely a partisan tactic” which he said was designed to attack the Bush administration. Republicans also warned that the report’s release would endanger U.S. service personnel and citizens abroad by fuelling anti-American sentiment, especially in the Muslim world.

But Sen. John McCain, who was himself tortured as a prisoner of war in the Vietnam war, defended the report, calling it “a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose …but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.”

McCain has championed efforts to pass legislation outlawing torture, particularly because Obama’s 2009 executive orders prohibiting such practices could be reversed by a future president.

Passage of such a law – whose prospects appear virtually nil in light of Republican control of both houses of Congress for the next two years – is one of the demands, along with release of the full report, of most human-rights groups here.

“The Obama administration and Congress should work together to build a durable consensus against torture by pursuing legislation that demonstrates bipartisan unity and fidelity to our ideals,” said Elisa Massimino, director of Human Rights First.

Many groups, however, want Obama to go further by prosecuting those responsible for the EIT programme, a step that his administration made clear from the outset it was loathe to do.

“We renew our demand for accountability for those individuals responsible for the CIA torture programme,” said Baher Azmy, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented a number of detainees at Guantanamo, including Abu Zubaydah, in U.S. courts. “They should be prosecuted in U.S. courts; and, if our government continues to refuse to hold them accountable, they must be pursued internationally under principles of universal jurisdiction.”

“The report shows the repeated claims that harsh measures were needed to protect Americans are utter fiction,” according to Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. “Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of the officials responsible, torture will remain a ‘policy option’ for future presidents.”

Noting that health professionals, including doctors and psychologists also played a role in the EITs, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) also called for legal accountability. “For more than a decade, the U.S. government has been lying about its use of torture,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director.

“The report confirms that health professionals used their skills to break the minds and bodies of detainees. Their actions destroyed trust in clinicians, undermined the integrity of their professions, and damaged the United States’ human rights record, which can only be corrected through accountability,” she said.

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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Mubarak Acquitted as Egypt’s Counterrevolution Thriveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/mubarak-acquitted-as-egypts-counterrevolution-thrives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mubarak-acquitted-as-egypts-counterrevolution-thrives http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/mubarak-acquitted-as-egypts-counterrevolution-thrives/#comments Wed, 03 Dec 2014 17:27:45 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138073 Egyptian army units block a road in Cairo, Feb. 6, 2011. Credit: IPS/Mohammed Omer

Egyptian army units block a road in Cairo, Feb. 6, 2011. Credit: IPS/Mohammed Omer

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Dec 3 2014 (IPS)

The acquittal of former Egyptian President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak is not a legal or political surprise. Yet it carries serious ramifications for Arab autocrats who are leading the counterrevolutionary charge, as well as the United States.

The court’s decision, announced Nov. 29 in Cairo, was the last nail in the coffin of the so-called Arab Spring and the Arab upheavals for justice, dignity, and freedom that rocked Egypt and other Arab countries in 2011.If the United States is interested in containing the growth of terrorism in the region, it must ultimately focus on the economic, political, and social root causes that push young Muslim Arabs towards violent extremism.

Chief Judge Mahmud Kamel al-Rashidi, who read the acquittal decision, and his fellow judges on the panel are holdover from the Mubarak era.

The Egyptian judiciary, the Sisi military junta, and the pliant Egyptian media provided the backdrop to the court’s ruling, which indicates how a popular revolution can topple a dictator but not the regime’s entrenched levers of power.

Indeed, no serious observer of Egypt would have been surprised by the decision to acquit Mubarak and his cronies of the charges of killing dozens of peaceful demonstrators at Tahrir Square in January 2011.

Arab autocrats in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere have worked feverishly to stamp out all vestiges of the 2011 revolutions. They have used bloody sectarianism and the threat of terrorism to delegitimise popular protests and discredit demands for genuine political reform.

The acquittal put a legal imprimatur on the dictator of Egypt’s campaign to re-write history.

Following the 2013 coupe that toppled President Mohamed Morsi, who is still in jail facing various trumped up charges, Arab dictators cheered on former Field Marshall and current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, lavishing him with billions of dollars. They parodied his narrative against the voices—secularists and Islamists alike—who cried out for good governance.

Regardless of how weak or solid the prosecution’s case against Mubarak was, the court’s ruling was not about law or legal arguments—from day one it was about politics and counter-revolution.

The unsurprising decision does, however, offer several critical lessons for the region and for the United States.

Removing a dictator is easier than dismantling his regime

Arab authoritarian regimes, whether dynasties or presidential republics, have perfected the art of survival, cronyism, systemic corruption, and control of potential opponents. They have used Islam for their cynical ends, urged the security service to silence the opposition, and encouraged the pliant media to articulate the regime’s narrative.

In order to control the “deep state” regime, Arab dictators in Egypt and elsewhere have created a pro-regime judiciary, dependable and well-financed military and security services, a compliant parliament, a responsive council of ministers, and supple and controlled media.

Autocrats have also ensured crucial loyalty through patronage and threats of retribution; influential elements within the regime see their power and influence as directly linked to the dictator.

The survival of both the dictator and the regime is predicated on the deeply held assumption that power-sharing with the public is detrimental to the regime and anathema to the country’s stability. This assumption has driven politics in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and several other countries since the beginning of the Arab Spring.

In anticipating popular anger about the acquittal decision, Judge Rashidi had the temerity to publicly claim that the decision “had nothing to do with politics.” In reality, however, the decision had everything to do with a pre-ordained decision on the part of the Sisi regime to turn the page on the January 25 revolution.

Dictatorship is a risky form of governance

Authoritarian regimes across the Arab world are expected to welcome Mubarak’s acquittal and the Sisi regime’s decision to move away from the pro-democracy demands that rocked Egypt in January 2011.

Bahrain’s King Hamad, for example, called Mubarak the day the decision was announced to congratulate him, according to the official news agency of the Gulf Arab island nation.

The New York Times has also reported that the Sisi regime is confident that because of the growing disinterest in demonstrations and instability, absolving Mubarak would not rile up the Egyptian public.

If the Sisi regime’s reading of the public mood proves accurate, Arab autocrats would indeed welcome the Egyptian ruling with open arms, believing that popular protests on behalf of democracy and human rights would be, in the words of the Arabic proverb, like a “summer cloud that will soon dissipate.”

However, most students of the region believe Arab dictators’ support of the Sisi regime is shortsighted and devoid of any strategic assessment of the region.

Many regional experts also believe that popular frustration with regime intransigence and repression would lead to radicalisation and increased terrorism.

The rise of Islamic State (ISIS or IS) is the latest example of how popular frustration, especially among Sunni Muslims, could drive a terrorist organization.

This phenomenon sadly has become all too apparent in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, and elsewhere. In response to popular resistance, however, the regimes in these countries have simply applied more repression and destruction.

Indeed, Sisi and other Arab autocrats have yet to learn the crucial lesson of the Arab Spring: People cannot be forced to kneel forever.

Blowback from decades of misguided U.S. regional policies

Focused on Sisi’s policies toward his people, Arab autocrats seem less attentive to Washington’s policies in the region than they have been at any time in recent decades.

They judge American regional policies as rudderless and preoccupied with tactical developments.

Arab regimes and publics have heard lofty American speeches in support of democratic values and human rights, and then seen US politicians coddle dictators.

Time after time, autocrats in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Syria have also seen Washington’s tactical policies in the region trump American national values, resulting in less respect for the United States.

Yet while Mubarak’s acquittal might soon fade from the front pages of the Egyptian media, the Arab peoples’ struggle for human rights, bread, dignity, and democracy will continue.

Sisi believes the US still views his country as a critical ally in the region, especially because of its peace treaty with Israel, and therefore would not cut its military aid to Egypt despite its egregious human rights record. Based on this belief, Egypt continues to ignore the consequences of its own destructive policies.

Now might be the right time, however, for Washington to reexamine its own position toward Egypt and reassert its support for human rights and democratic transitions in the Arab world.

If the United States is interested in containing the growth of terrorism in the region, it must ultimately focus on the economic, political, and social root causes that push young Muslim Arabs towards violent extremism.

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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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 mechanical 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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