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Obama Agrees to Spend $1 Trillion on Scandal-plagued US Nuclear Arsenal

October 31st, 2014 - by admin

Gayane Chichakyan / RT News & Charles Hoskinson / The Washington Examiner – 2014-10-31 02:00:38


US Nuclear Arsenal Feared In
Dire Straits Amid Army Scandals

Gayane Chichakyan / RT News

(September 7, 2014) — US has been spending hundreds of billions of dollars on its nuclear arsenal. But the spate of scandals surrounding those responsible for the thousands of warheads and the infrastructure raise questions over the security of the world’s deadliest weapons.

US Nuclear Arsenal
Due for Modernization

Charles Hoskinson / The Washington Examiner

(October 27, 2014) — The US nuclear deterrent is in need of an expensive modernization as Cold War-era weapons reach their age limits.

The program is both inconvenient and crucial. It’s inconvenient because the defense budget already is under severe political pressure and goes against President Obama’s central policy goal of nuclear disarmament. But it’s crucial because the specter of nuclear conflict has re-emerged more strongly than at any time since the end of the Cold War, with increased Russian hostility toward NATO and the expansionist ambitions of smaller powers such as Iran.

The Pentagon’s fiscal 2015 budget calls for dramatic increases in spending on a new manned bomber for the Air Force and a nuclear ballistic missile submarine for the Navy. The third leg of the nuclear triad, land-based Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, are being considered for modernization as well.

The budget also includes more funding for new warheads and missiles and for refurbishing existing ones.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the program would cost $355 billion by 2023, but that’s just a start. Deploying a new three-legged nuclear force is expected to cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

Those plans are “unaffordable” under current budget constraints and “would likely come at the expense of needed improvements in conventional forces,” noted a bipartisan, congressionally appointed panel that reviewed US military strategy for a report issued in July.

They also clash with Obama’s oft-stated goal of weaning the world off nuclear weapons.

“What is clear is that the current plans to replace the nuclear arsenal do conflict with the administration’s policy of reducing reliance on nuclear weapons,” says Adam Mount, a fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations.

Though the US nuclear stockpile has shrunk 85 percent from its peak in 1967, it remains a formidable force. The United States has 4,804 warheads deployed on 14 submarines, 85 B-52 and 19 B-2 strategic bombers, and 450 Minuteman III ICBMs, or kept in reserve.

Plans to modernize the force are based on the lower limits set by the 2011 New START agreement with Russia, which calls for a maximum of 1,550 deployed warheads on 700 launch systems by February 2018.

To get that deal ratified by the Senate, Obama had to pledge in writing to modernize the US nuclear arsenal, and the Republican lawmakers who negotiated the pledge have pushed him to honor it.

Now they have a new reason to do so: Since the crisis over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine erupted in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly invoked his nation’s nuclear arsenal in warnings to the West not to push its disapproval of Moscow too far.

“We hope that our partners will realize the recklessness of attempts to blackmail Russia, will remember the risks that a spat between major nuclear powers incurs for strategic stability,” he told the Serbian newspaper Politika in an interview published Oct. 16.

Meanwhile, US officials are working to conclude a nuclear deal with Iran by a Nov. 24 deadline that would remove the threat of proliferation in the Middle East. And nuclear-armed North Korea remains dangerously unpredictable.

The specter of a new nuclear arms race has taken the edge off the president’s rhetoric and disappointed advocates of nuclear disarmament. In his annual speech in September to the United Nations General Assembly, the president highlighted past cooperation with Russia to reduce nuclear stockpiles and strengthen international nonproliferation agreements, but sounded a pessimistic note for the future, saying: “And that’s the kind of cooperation we are prepared to pursue again — if Russia changes course.”

Nuclear Weapons
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

(July 27, 2014) — America has over 4,800 nuclear weapons, and we don’t take terrific care of them. It’s terrifying, basically.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

ACTION ALERT: Pardon Edward Snowden

October 31st, 2014 - by admin

Katrina vanden Heuvel / The Washington Post & Ellen Nakashima and Ashkan Soltani / The Washington Post – 2014-10-31 01:59:54


Justice for Edward Snowden
Katrina vanden Heuvel / The Washington Post

(October 28, 2014) — It is time for President Obama to offer clemency to Edward Snowden, the courageous US citizen who revealed the Orwellian reach of the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance of Americans. His actions may have broken the law, but his act, as the New York Times editorialized, did the nation “a great service.”

In an interview that The Nation magazine is publishing this week, Nation Contributing Editor Stephen Cohen and I asked Snowden his definition of patriotism. He sensibly argues patriotism is not “acting to benefit the government,” but to “act on behalf of one’s country. . . . You’re not patriotic just because you back whoever’s in power today. . . . You’re patriotic when you work to improve the lives of the people of your country,” including protecting their rights.

That requires hard choices. When a government is trampling the rights of the people in secrecy, patriots have a duty to speak out. Snowden notes that there is no “oath of secrecy” for people who work for the government.

Contract employees like Snowden sign a form, a civil agreement, agreeing not to release classified information, opening themselves to civil or criminal prosecution if they do. “But you are also asked to take an oath, and that’s the oath of service. The oath of service is not to secrecy, but to the Constitution — to protect it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That’s the oath that I kept.”

Snowden’s actions revealed that the National Security Agency was collecting information, without a warrant, on millions of Americans. The revelations properly sparked outrage across the globe, and even in our somnambulant Congress. Countries and companies began seeking ways to curtail the invasion. Two federal judges have ruled that the NSA is guilty of trampling the Fourth Amendment protections of the Constitution.

As US District Judge Richard Leon, an appointee of George W. Bush, wrote, “I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware ‘the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power,’ would be aghast.”

Even Obama, who has asserted a sweeping view of the national security prerogatives of the executive, was forced to appoint a commission to review the program. That commission issued a powerful critique of the NSA and called for a fundamental reform of its operations.

NSA Shouldn’t Keep Phone Database,
Review Board Recommends

Ellen Nakashima and Ashkan Soltani / The Washington Post

(December 18, 2013) — A panel appointed by President Obama to review the government’s surveillance activities has recommended significant new limits on the nation’s intelligence apparatus that include ending the National Security Agency’s collection of virtually all Americans’ phone records.

It urged that phone companies or a private third party maintain the data instead, with access granted only by a court order.

The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies also recommended in a wide-ranging report issued Wednesday that decisions to spy on foreign leaders be subjected to greater scrutiny, including weighing the diplomatic and economic fallout if operations are revealed.

Allied foreign leaders or those with whom the United States shares a cooperative relationship should be accorded “a high degree of respect and deference,” it said.

The panel also urged legislation that would require the FBI to obtain judicial approval before it can use a national security letter or administrative subpoena to obtain Americans’ financial, phone and other records. That would eliminate one of the tool’s main attractions: that it can be employed quickly without court approval.

The review group also would impose a ban on warantless NSA searches for Americans’ phone calls and e-mails held within large caches of communications collected legally because the program targeted foreigners overseas.

A report from the five-member Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies contains 40-plus recommendations on the NSA.

Taken together, the five-member panel’s recommendations take aim at some of the most controversial practices of the intelligence community, in particular the 35,000-employee NSA, headquartered at Fort Meade, Md. The signals intelligence agency has been in the news constantly since June, when reports based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began appearing in The Washington Post and the Guardian.

The White House released the 300-plus-page report as part of a larger effort to restore public confidence in the intelligence community, which has been shaken by the Snowden revelations.

The panel said that the NSA’s storage of phone data “creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty” and that as a general rule, “the government should not be permitted to collect and store mass, undigested, non-public personal information” about Americans to be mined for foreign intelligence purposes.

Despite the proposed constraints, panel member Michael Morell, a former deputy director of the CIA, said, “We are not in any way recommending the disarming of the intelligence community.”

The panel made 46 recommendations in all, which included moving the NSA’s information assurance directorate — its computer defense arm — outside the agency and under the Defense Department’s cyber-policy office.

“The review committee has reaffirmed that national security neither requires nor permits the government to help itself to Americans’ personal information at will,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. “The recommendations would extend significant privacy protections to Americans.”

Some intelligence professionals were dismayed. “If adopted in bulk, the panel’s recommendations would put us back before 9/11 again,” said Joel F. Brenner, a former NSA inspector general.

Former NSA and CIA director Michael V. Hayden urged senior intelligence officials to lay out the operational costs of adopting the recommendations. “The responsibility is now in the intelligence community to be ruthlessly candid with the policy leadership,” Hayden said.

Read the NSA’s report, “Liberty and Security in a Changing World.”

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Why Congress Must Vote on War & How to Shorten a Long War

October 31st, 2014 - by admin

Tom Hayden / The Peace & Justice Resource Center – 2014-10-31 00:48:29


Why Congress Must Vote on War
Tom Hayden / The Peace & Justice Resource Center

(OCTOBER 29, 2014) — No American president, from Nixon to Obama, has accepted the legal legitimacy of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, one of the major achievements of the movement against the Indochina War. The core claim of the White House has been that executive war-making power cannot be abridged, even though the US Constitution seems to expressly grant the Congress a power-sharing role.

In a few weeks, Congress once again will face a fateful choice to either cede its war-approval powers to the White House or take an authorizing vote on Iraq and Syria. Peace activists have a choice as well, whether or not to push for a Congressional authorization while knowing that it likely will be favorable.

Congress faces a fateful choice to either cede its war-approval powers to the White House or take an authorizing vote on Iraq and Syria after this November’s election. Peace activists have a choice as well, whether or not to push for a Congressional authorization knowing it likely will be favorable.

Achieving consensus around hard choices is not always a strength of the peace movement. Is the principle of defending the constitutional role of Congress against the executive branch more important than the outcome of a vote if it ratifies war? There are three possibilities:

First, Congress surrenders its constitutional role, leaving the White House, Pentagon and CIA in charge of carrying out military policies of their choice. The President says the current phase of the Long War will last at least three years.

Second, Congress authorizes bombing and covert operations in Iraq and Syria against ISIS, and perhaps ground troops, without conditions. An open-ended authorization is being proposed by hawks like Representative Frank Wolf (VA-10), Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and Representative Darrell Issa (R –CA 49). The Issa bill would terminate in 120 days or require another renewal.

Third, Congress authorizes an air war with substantive conditions. The foremost proponent of asserting Congressional authority, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, would authorize the US bombing strikes for one year and while denying the significant use of American ground troops in combat roles.

Variations on this approach have been introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who wants three years, and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA 28) who wants 18 months. None of the bills so far include repeal of the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Force (AUMF) against Al Qaeda and “associated” groups, which the Obama administration employs to justify its bombing campaign against ISIS, although the Schiff bill does include a sunset provision.

For the peace movement this appears to be a classic lesser-evil choice. But that reaction ignores two basic achievements contained in the Kaine legislation: first, preserving the principle of Congressional authority and, second, placing real limits on the Obama administration’s ability to escalate with American ground troops. And not challenging the Obama administration, in the opinion of many, will provide a “silent consent” to the executive branch for future wars.

Most importantly, Congressional district offices are the best centers of access where local peace coalitions can affect their representatives. Emails or protests aimed at Washington are useful but serious stirrings in a Congressional district can have greater impact.

Members of Congress will be looking closely at their constituents’ attitudes during the current Congressional break. If the activists in their districts or states are calling either for a “no” vote or for precise conditions on a “yes” vote (one year deadline, no ground troops, etc.) they will have some influence, if not today then certainly in 2015 and 2016 when the war will be continuing.

Assuming that any war(s) which go on for three years will lead into costly quagmire, the debates on deadlines, deployment of US ground troops, and funding will grow in significance.

Kaine is not only from the political battleground state of Virginia; he is a former chair of the Democratic National Committee, an ally of Obama, and a possible presidential candidate.

How to Shorten the Long War
Tom Hayden / The Peace & Justice Resource Center

(October 28, 2014) — The next turning point in the new Iraq War will be when President Barack Obama and Congress decide whether to maintain their promise to send no American ground troops.

If they hold firm, an early diplomatic settlement may be forced on them since the Iraqi armed forces cannot stop the “clear, build and hold” strategy of the Islamic State. Iraq’s Shiite forces cannot, or will not, defend Sunni areas, and Iraq’s Kurds are fighting to defend their territory.

Iraq’s faltering regime may buckle altogether, or sink into a sectarian civil war, which will partition the country.

The Pentagon, the neo-cons and most Republicans are pushing for more ground troops to be sent to Iraq, and even Syria. If Obama and the Democrats yield, it’s a political win for his enemies. If Obama holds firm, he will be blamed for “losing” Iraq.

Public pressure against re-sending thousands of American troops for a third Iraq War is the surest way to bring the war to an end.

Those with memories of past wars know that we have been here once before, with the most dire of consequences. In 1964, President Johnson campaigned for election on a firm promise that he would send no young American men to fight a ground war in Southeast Asia. At the same time, he began planning to invade. A future full of promise spiraled out of control.

Whether Johnson knew what he was doing or was stampeded by his advisers doesn’t matter ultimately. (Years later, he would demand to know how Vietnam happened.)

The similarity is that three times, in 2006, 2008, and 2012, Americans have issued a voter mandate to end or “wind down” these recurring wars. The public favors US bombing against the Islamic State, at least for now, but seems solidly against an escalation by US ground troops. That attitude might be shaken by more IS atrocities combined with panic at the collapse of Baghdad. Or an attitude of “enough is enough” might deepen.

All we know is that the War Lobby has the momentum. But from the perspective of the “long peace movement,” their position is weakening by the year.

Peace forces already have succeeded in placing sharp limits on the Pentagon and government’s powers. The US has steadily reduced the American ground troop numbers from 500,000 in the first Gulf War to about 1,200 over a broader battlefield today.

In the first Gulf War (1990-91), the Bush 1 administration dispatched 500,000 troops to push the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait and back to Baghdad.

In the Afghanistan War (2001 to the present), our government committed 100,000 troops and NATO another 50,000, which have been reduced to 35,000 thus far with no victory over the Taliban in sight.

In the second Iraq War (2003-2012), 150,000 US troops and thousands of NATO auxiliaries were reduced to nearly zero by 2013, without having stabilized an alternative to sectarian civil war before our troops finally departed.

In the multi-year Syrian chapter of the conflict, the American role has been clandestine, indirect and so far inconclusive.

In Libya, the US assistance in overthrowing the dictator Kaddafi was limited to air strikes, logistics, and the CIA and Special-Ops. It has resulted in a tribal civil war and spreading chaos in the region.

The newest war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is unpredictable for the moment, but already shows the serious limits on America’s military capacity, limits imposed partly by latent anti-war sentiment among Americans at home. The mainstream media almost unanimously calls this public mood “fatigue”, a new analog to the “Vietnam syndrome.”

The framing implies that the American people have lose their martial spirit. In another view, the American public is showing a maturity lacking in the political elite: that it’s time to cut our losses in unwinnable, unaffordable wars involving religious fanatics.

The contradictions threaten to “bedevil Obama”, according to a New York Times headline. If there are no reliable US or non-US ground troops for the new war, and American bombing alone can’t obliterate ISIS, that will force a confrontation with the Pentagon warlords and political hawks.

Will Obama and Congress be able to hold to a “no ground troops” pledge amidst a media and military panic that ISIS is at the gates of Baghdad?

The policy confrontation might come as soon as this winter, after the mid-term elections. The president, the Congress, and all aspirants for high office in 2016, will have to stake out their positions at the brink of a new war.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Hagel Warns Syria Strategy

October 31st, 2014 - by admin

Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Richard Sisk / Military.com & Reuters – 2014-10-31 00:45:44

Hagel Blasts Syria Strategy in Memo

Hagel Blasts Syria Strategy in Memo
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(October 30, 2014) — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel issued a memo to National Security Adviser Susan Rice which was deeply critical of the administration’s military strategy in the ongoing ISIS war in Syria, saying the plan was “in danger of unraveling.”

The memo, described by officials familiar with it, centered on the lack of an endgame strategy as well as the inability of the administration to clarify its intentions toward the Assad government.

Hagel warned the fighting in Syria could go on for years without any clear end, and that Syrian President Bashar Assad was deriving benefits from the US campaign.

The memo was much more critical than Hagel has been in comments publicly, and declined to discuss the specifics of the memo, saying only that he felt he owes the president “honesty.”

The lack of an endgame strategy has been something analysts have been pointing out for quite some time, as the US talks up backing a moderate rebel force that they haven’t even begun attempting to create, and which is going to take at least a year to be in any sort of form. Hagel’s memo acknowledges this in a way that officials haven’t publicly, and suggests that even if they don’t want to admit it, the problem is very much on their minds.

The issue with Assad is even more complicated, as the administration publicly insists it still wants regime change, but is clearly coordinating, at least secretly, with the Syrian military.

Hagel: US Faces Setbacks and
Complications in ISIS Fight

Richard Sisk / Military.com

(October 30, 2014) — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey gave mixed reviews Thursday to the progress made by US and Iraq forces in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The top US military officials said the US and Iraqis have suffered setbacks in efforts to protect Sunni tribes in Iraq and form a “moderate” opposition force in Syria.

“We are constantly assessing and reassessing and adapting” on a strategy to defeat ISIS that Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, has said will take three to four years, Hagel said at a Pentagon briefing with Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Hagel said that the “complicated” and evolving strategy depended on holding together a fractious coalition of Middle Eastern countries committed to the main goal of rooting out ISIS.

“We’ve got to manage through the realities of what we have in front of us with some longer-term strategies,” Hagel said. “We’re constantly working through options.”

Read the full story here.

Hagel Will Not Discuss ‘Critical’ Syria Memo

WASHINGTON (October 30, 2014) — US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stressed the need for honesty in internal government discussions on Thursday as he declined comment on a two-page internal memo he wrote on Syria policy, described as critical by people familiar with its contents.

The memo from Hagel to White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice was first reported by the New York Times, which said he warned President Barack Obama’s Syria policy was in jeopardy due to its failure to clarify its intentions toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Two people familiar with its contents, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters they agreed with the description of the memo by the Times as critical.

Asked about the memo, Hagel told a Pentagon news conference: “We owe the president and we owe the National Security Council our best thinking on this.”

“And it has to be honest and it has to be direct,” Hagel said, without citing areas of disagreement.

Obama faces criticism at home and abroad for looking at the crisis in Syria almost exclusively through the threat of the Islamic State, while failing to address attacks by Assad’s forces that undermine the opposition that Washington will ultimately need.

The Obama administration’s position is that Assad must go but it hopes to defer that challenge until later to focus on Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Hagel suggested that the future governance of Syria needs to be at the core of American actions, now centered around air strikes against Islamic State targets and plans for training Syrian opposition forces.

“The fighting can go on for years and years to what end? … It’s in our interest not to have an unstable Middle East,” Hagel said, stressing the need to manage current threats while focusing on “some longer term strategies and objectives.”

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and David Alexander; Editing by Bernard Orr)

US Airstrikes Divide ‘Moderate’ Syria Rebels, al-Qaeda
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(October 30, 2014) — The invention of “Khorasan” as a faction in Syria was meant to disguise that the US attacks in Syria were targeting not just ISIS, but also Jabhat al-Nusra, the local al-Qaeda affiliate whose members were attacked under the guise of targeting Khorasan.

The attacks were unpopular among the “moderate” rebels the US is always talking up, who noted Nusra is a close ally of theirs. Or at least, they were a close ally.

With the US attacking Nusra, the pro-US rebels are now facing retaliation from Nusra fighters, and it’s yet another enemy they can’t actually beat, leading them to push the US for even more aid.

The US seems to have given up on the existing moderate rebels and is preparing to create a new faction in the years to come, but the attacks are reflecting both the unsavory nature of the existing US allied rebels, and how little thought went into expanding the war against Nusra.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

The Ghosts of Gaza: Israel’s Soldier Suicides

October 30th, 2014 - by admin

Creede Newton / The Daily Beast – 2014-10-30 11:35:24


HAIFA, Israel (October 28, 2014) — More than two months after the end of Israel’s latest offensive in Gaza, Operation Protective Edge, its consequences are still being felt in Israeli society. While the Palestinian territory where the war was waged lies in ruins, for some of the Israelis who fought there the devastation that lingers is in the mind.

In the weeks after Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended ceasefire, three Israeli soldiers decided to end their lives with their own weapons. And what was especially striking about their suicides was that all served in the same unit, the Givati Brigade, which had a reputation for its ruthless ferocity, considerable bravery, and the use of Old Testament religiosity to justify the merciless operations of its commander, Colonel Ofer Winter.

The unit spent most of its time in Gaza close to the border with Israel in an area the Israel Defense Forces set out to make a wide buffer zone consuming more than 40 percent of Gaza’s territory. Fighters from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other groups did not fall back. Instead they operated out of a vast network of tunnels, and the combat was as ferocious as any the IDF has seen for many years. But the Givati Brigade drew particular attention because of its alleged responsibility for widespread civilian casualties.

On July 21, the Givati was the main infantry force in the assault on Khuzaa, a town in south-central Gaza right on the border with Israel. Human Rights Watch reported afterward, without specifying the unit, that IDF troops there were responsible for “repeated shelling that struck apparent civilian structures, lack of access to necessary medical care, and the threat of attack from Israeli forces as [civilians] tried to leave the area.”

Humanitarian organizations were denied entry to Khuzaa, leaving medics unable to tend the wounded or collect corpses. Residents fortunate enough to have escaped began returning to the destroyed village at the beginning of August.

On Aug. 1, The Daily Beast reported what appeared to have been a summary execution of six men inside an abandoned home full of IDF bullet casings.

In a follow-up report, an Islamic Jihad member under the alias Abu Muhammad, who claimed to have fought in the battle of Khuzaa, alleged that the Palestinians killed were members of his organization, that they had come out of a tunnel to try to ambush IDF soldiers but had been ambushed themselves, were cornered in a nearby house, ran out of ammunition, and then were executed.

When asked about the event, and about the possibility that the three soldiers who committed suicide might have been involved, an IDF spokesperson declined to comment and said the matter was still under investigation.

By the time villagers returned to the ruins of Khuzaa in early August, the Givatis had moved south. Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin of the Givati Brigade was believed to have been captured by Hamas fighters during a battle in Rafah on Aug. 1.

In response, the IDF appears to have initiated what is known as the Hannibal Directive or Protocol, a procedure that aims to free a captured soldier — or risk ending his life along with that of his abductors, if that’s what it takes — in order to avoid protracted negotiations with militants that may free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. The directive dates back to 1986, was kept secret and reportedly was abolished. But on Aug. 3, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the Hannibal Directive was still very much in effect:

“On Friday morning, when the IDF still believed that Lt. Hadar Goldin may have been taken alive by Hamas into an attack tunnel beneath Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, the Hannibal Directive was activated to its most devastating extent yet — including massive artillery bombardments and airstrikes on possible escape routes. At least 40 Palestinians were killed in Rafah.”

Gaza officials place the number of innocent lives lost at 130. The IDF now places the number of dead at 41, of whom 12 are said to have been militants.

“What stands out is what we saw in Khuzaa, including attacks on homes with families in them, and Rafah, with indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas,” a human-rights researcher for Amnesty International, Saleh Hijazi, told The Daily Beast in a telephone interview. “It seems there was a complete disregard for civilian lives and property. It seems like war crimes were committed.”

Ahron Bregman, professor of War Studies at King’s College in London and a former IDF major, told The Daily Beast, “Some of the practices employed by the IDF should be banned altogether — just thrown out of the window. Activating the Hannibal Protocol in Rafah led to the killing of more than 150 innocent people.” In the Aug. 15 edition of Yedioth Ahronoth, the Israeli newspaper with the highest circulation, Winter openly admitted carrying out the protocol. Anyone who abducts an Israeli soldier should know that “he will pay the price,” said Winter. “It was not revenge. They just messed with the wrong division.”

Investigators later determined that Lt. Goldin had been killed in action prior to the bombing.

Before all this carnage, Col. Winter first made headlines over the summer with a letter he penned to his troops, in which he asked for heavenly assistance to “spearhead the fighting [against] the terrorist ‘Gazan’ enemy which abuses, blasphemes, and curses the God of Israel’s [defense] forces.”

This showing of religious fervor was not an isolated incident.

In an interview with the Hebrew press, he praised the miracles he experienced on the battlefield. He claimed that during an early-morning operation in Khuzaa, God sent “clouds of glory” to protect his troops, and they remained unseen until “the houses were blown up . . . and no longer posed any danger . . . It [was] like the Lord your God is walking with you to save you.”

At one point, the article on the news website Kooker describes Winter speaking as some of his subordinates come into his office. “My soldiers killed five terrorists out of the tunnel shaft,” he declares without specifying the location in Gaza. He raises his hands to the heaven. “Thank God, thank you God,” he says.

Winter’s strong religious foundation has a specific focus. He studied at the Bnei David yeshiva, built as part of the Eli settlement deep inside the occupied West Bank. Bnei David’s courses prepare its pupils for service in the Israeli military, specializing in leadership roles.

Indeed, settler influence in the Israeli military establishment is growing, thanks in part to the efforts of academies like Bnei David. The yeshiva’s website says that 24 classes have completed coursework (Winter was a graduate of the second) and as a result it has “2,500 enlistees” in the IDF; 50 percent became commissioned officers and “100 have chosen the army as their life-career and are steadily rising up the ranks of command.”

A contributing factor, according to Staff Sergeant J., who served in the Givati Brigade in the middle of the last decade, and does not want to be named, is that secular Israelis are now avoiding the military or declining to continue after mandatory service. “Those who do continue feel a religious and political duty,” he says. This has been discussed as a concern by Israeli academics and analysts for years.

The staff sergeant said that when he was in the Givati Brigade in 2007 or so, it was “openly secular.” He recalls “there was a group who had come from the yeshiva,” but “often they were uncomfortable . . . they felt sidelined.” As secular Israelis left, however, the vacancies were filled by settlers, he said.

Could any of this, or some of this, or none of this have affected the decision of three Givati soldiers to take their own lives? The Daily Beast reached out to several post-traumatic stress disorder specialists for their analysis.

“It is strange that they hadn’t seen a mental-health counselor,” said Mooli Lahad, an Israeli psychiatrist and psychotrauma specialist with over three decades of experience. He was citing reports that the Givati soldiers hadn’t received treatment. “This isn’t common for the IDF,” he said.

Lahad stressed that suicide usually has to do with pre-existing issues, such as depression, and an accumulation of factors can lead to a sense of hopelessness, which counseling helps to prevent.

“Sometimes, if there is a particularly macho culture, seeking help for depression or PTSD is seen as showing weakness, which is discouraged,” Lahad said. “If there’s a commander who thinks God is whispering in his ear, this can make things even more difficult.”

When asked about the similarities among the suicides — particularly the use of IDF weapons and the short time span — William Nash, a psychiatrist and former US Navy captain who embedded with the 1st Marine Division in Iraq, said it could be attributed to a “copycat” phenomenon which is known to take place when there are outbreaks of multiple suicides.

“However, it doesn’t explain why they chose to do it,” said Nash. “It’s a stretch, but if it’s true that these suicides were motivated by . . . participation in these alleged atrocities, there must be hundreds more soldiers suffering.”

Col. Winter recently was replaced by Col. Yaron Finkleman, the commander of the Gaza North Brigade, in the latest round of appointments by IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

According to the news service Ynet, Finkleman’s appointment is out of character for the military: This is the first time in 10 years that the commander of the Givatis doesn’t come from the brigade itself.

When asked previously if these controversies, including the suicides, were a factor in Winter being passed over for promotion, IDF spokesperson Libby Weiss responded that these decisions “come as a result of a thorough process which evaluates various factors.” The events in Gaza had “no bearing” on the decision and “Col. Winter played a crucial role in restoring security to the residents of Israel’s south.”

She went on to say that “preventing suicides during military service and dealing with issues of PTSD are of utmost importance to [us], and a large staff is dedicated to these matters.”

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

ACTION ALERT: Tell President Obama: ‘No to Torture’

October 30th, 2014 - by admin

Credo Action & Charlie Savage / The New York Times & The New York Times Editorial Board – 2014-10-30 11:32:36


Is President Obama Working to Revive Bush-era Torture?

ACTION ALERT: Tell President Obama:
Make it clear that the US will not engage
in torture at home or abroad.

To President Obama:
Make a clear statement at the upcoming Geneva meeting on the global Convention Against Torture that the United States does not condone torture, and that your administration will hold people accountable for committing torture.

Progressives who worked to elect President Obama have been disappointed on many fronts. But the White House may be on the verge of one its most dramatic — and shameful — about-faces: reinstating a Bush-era loophole allowing the use of torture.

On President Obama’s second day in office he banned torture in the interrogation of terror suspects by executive order, ending a shameful legacy of the George W. Bush administration which embraced waterboarding and other forms of torture in secret CIA prisons and black sites around the world.

Now, with just two years left in his second term in office, key members of President Obama’s “legal team” are debating an about-face on torture. The New York Times reports that administration officials may be poised to adopt a Bush-era legal interpretation that allows the US to engage in torture as long as it does not occur on American soil.

Next month, the US must report to the United Nations committee that monitors compliance with the international Convention Against Torture. State Department officials want the administration to explicitly refute the Bush administration position reserving the legal right to torture prisoners held on foreign soil.

Pentagon and CIA officials, however, fear that making such a statement could expose Bush administration officials who participated in torture to prosecution. And they want to maintain a loophole in the Obama administration’s current anti-torture policies that would open the door for American officials to engage in torture outside our country’s borders, including at foreign black sites.

As a former constitutional law professor, President Obama should understand with the utmost clarity the importance of drawing a bright line when it comes to torture. There can be no legal loophole that allows his administration or future administrations to engage in torture in America’s name.

Making a clear statement at the Geneva meeting on the global Convention Against Torture would make it clear to Americans and to the world that the US does not condone torture, and that it will hold government officials accountable for committing torture in violation of national and international law.

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Becky Bond is Political Director of CREDO Action from Working Assets

Obama Could Reaffirm a Bush-Era
Reading of a Treaty on Torture

Charlie Savage / The New York Times

WASHINGTON (October 18, 2014) — When the Bush administration revealed in 2005 that it was secretly interpreting a treaty ban on “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” as not applying to CIA and military prisons overseas, Barack Obama, then a newly elected Democratic senator from Illinois, joined in a bipartisan protest.

Mr. Obama supported legislation to make it clear that American officials were legally barred from using cruelty anywhere in the world. And in a Senate speech, he said enacting such a statute “acknowledges and confirms existing obligations” under the treaty, the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

But the Obama administration has never officially declared its position on the treaty, and now, President Obama’s legal team is debating whether to back away from his earlier view. It is considering reaffirming the Bush administration’s position that the treaty imposes no legal obligation on the United States to bar cruelty outside its borders, according to officials who discussed the deliberations on the condition of anonymity.

The administration must decide on its stance on the treaty by next month, when it sends a delegation to Geneva to appear before the Committee Against Torture, a United Nations panel that monitors compliance with the treaty. That presentation will be the first during Mr. Obama’s presidency.

State Department lawyers are said to be pushing to officially abandon the Bush-era interpretation. Doing so would require no policy changes, since Mr. Obama issued an executive order in 2009 that forbade cruel interrogations anywhere and made it harder for a future administration to return to torture.

But military and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad. They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts. They have also raised concerns that current or future wartime detainees abroad might invoke the treaty to sue American officials with claims of torture, although courts have repeatedly thrown out lawsuits brought by detainees held as terrorism suspects.

The internal debate is said to have been catalyzed by a memo that the State Department circulated within an interagency lawyers’ group several weeks ago. On Wednesday, lawyers from the State Department, the Pentagon, the intelligence community and the National Security Council met at the White House to discuss the matter, but reached no consensus.

Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokeswoman, said Mr. Obama’s opposition to torture and cruel interrogations anywhere in the world was clear, separate from the legal question of whether the United Nations treaty applies to American behavior overseas.

“We are considering that question, and other questions posed by the committee, carefully as we prepare for the presentation in November,” Ms. Meehan said. “But there is no question that torture and cruel treatment in armed conflict are clearly and categorically prohibited in all places.”

In Mr. Obama’s first term, his top State Department lawyer, Harold H. Koh, began a push to reverse official government interpretations that two global rights treaties — the torture convention and a Bill of Rights-style accord — imposed no obligations on American officials abroad.

Both treaties contain phrases that make it ambiguous whether they apply to American-run prisons on foreign territory. For example, the provision barring cruelty that falls short of torture applies to a state’s conduct “in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

Mr. Koh argued that both treaties protected prisoners in American custody or control anywhere. In a 90-page memo he signed in 2013, before leaving the State Department to return to teaching at Yale Law School, he declared, “In my legal opinion, it is not legally available to policy makers to claim” that the torture treaty has no application abroad.

In March, the Obama administration rejected Mr. Koh’s view about the Bill of Rights-style accord, telling the United Nations that the United States still believed that it applied only on domestic soil. That treaty, however, raised more complications than the torture treaty does.

The torture treaty debate traces back to the January 2005 confirmation hearing for Alberto R. Gonzales, then White House counsel, to become attorney general. He faced questions about torture because the previous year, amid the Abu Ghraib scandal, someone had leaked a Justice Department memo addressed to him that narrowly interpreted a statute banning torture.

The memo’s focus on determining exactly what constituted torture was puzzling because the treaty made cruelty short of torture illegal, too. The mystery was solved when Mr. Gonzales revealed that Justice Department lawyers had concluded that the treaty’s cruelty ban did not protect noncitizens in American custody abroad.

That disclosure prompted Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, to propose legislation prohibiting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment anywhere. After Congress enacted it, President George W. Bush issued a signing statement claiming that his powers as commander in chief overrode the statute, leaving a cloud over the law until Mr. Obama ordered strict compliance with it.

The theory that the treaty’s cruelty provision applied only domestically rested on a Senate reservation interpreting the provision as referring to the same cruel and unusual treatment prohibited by the Constitution. Since the Constitution does not apply to noncitizens abroad, the Bush team reasoned, neither did the treaty provision.

But Abraham D. Sofaer, a former top State Department lawyer who negotiated the treaty for President Ronald Reagan and presented it to the Senate for the first President George Bush, said the intent of the reservation was to ensure uniform standards, not to limit the treaty’s geographic applicability.

“What the attorney general said about our liability abroad, it was all wrong, and we need to wash it away,” Mr. Sofaer said last week. “We shouldn’t have done it, and we need to send a signal to the world that we mean it, we should not have done this, we misinterpreted the convention. This is a really important worldwide ban that we need to get behind again.”

Close the Overseas Torture Loophole
President Obama and the Convention Against Torture

The New York Times Editorial Board

(October 20, 2014) — One of the proudest moments of President Obama’s presidency took place on his second day in office, when he signed an executive order that banned torture and cruel treatment in the interrogation of terror suspects.

But apparently some of his subordinates didn’t get the message. As Charlie Savage of The Times reported on Sunday, some military and intelligence lawyers in the administration are pressuring the White House to adopt a Bush-era position that there is no bar against the use of torture by the United States outside American borders. And, unfortunately, the White House is considering the proposal.

The issue has come up because the United States is required to appear in Geneva next month before the United Nations committee that monitors compliance with the global Convention Against Torture, adopted in 1984 and ratified by the United States 10 years later.

State Department lawyers want the administration to abandon the position of the George W. Bush administration and state plainly that it will not engage in torture or cruel treatment of prisoners anywhere in the world, including at detention camps on foreign soil.

But military and intelligence officials don’t want the administration to make that public statement. They’re worried that such a declaration could result in the prosecution of the Bush-era officials who did practice torture.

That fear seems misplaced. There should be legal accountability from those who tarnished the country’s reputation by ordering and practicing torture, but it’s hard to see how agreeing to a global ban on torture now would increase the chances for such a prosecution.

For one thing, Congress already passed a law in 2005 saying that no one in American custody shall be subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment “regardless of nationality or physical location.” Mr. Bush reserved the right to bypass the law, but the plain language of the statute is quite clear.

Last year, Harold Koh, then the top lawyer in the State Department, wrote a detailed, 90-page memo explaining why there was no legal basis to claim that the United Nations torture treaty didn’t apply to American officials acting overseas. The White House says it still prohibits torture or cruel treatment anywhere, but considers the treaty question a “technical” matter worthy of review.

Nearly six years after he stopped the practice, President Obama should not consider any legal loophole that might permit an American official to engage in torture or cruelty, no matter where it takes place. A clear position in Geneva would send a strong message that humane treatment isn’t just an Obama administration policy, but rather permanent national and international law.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Synthetic Biology: The Risks of Treating Life as a Machine

October 30th, 2014 - by admin

The ETC Group & the Bioeconomies Media Project – 2014-10-30 11:17:51

Special to Environmentalists Against War

(October 29, 2014) — It has been referred to as extreme genetic engineering and the new frontier of biotechnology. What is “SynBio”, and how will it affect the food we eat and the farmers who provide it? This short video explains.

Synthetic Biology Explained:
The Risks of Treating Life as a Machine


MONTREAL (October 29, 2014) — On the eve of the largest annual gathering of synthetic biologists in the world, ETC Group and the Bioeconomies Media Project are launching a new animated explanation of the workings of this emerging “SynBio” industry, often dubbed extreme genetic engineering.

Thousands of scientists, students and vendors will converge at the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) Jamboree in Boston to share the latest advancements in what has become a multi-billion-dollar industry based on the industrialization of life at the molecular level.

Increasingly, scientists and civil society are sounding the alarm about the risks posed by unregulated commercialization of SynBio’s untested, experimental and unprecedented manipulation of life forms. The new ten-minute video, produced in collaboration with award-winning Canadian animator Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre and narrated by ETC’s Jim Thomas, is the first output from a new Bioeconomies Media Project.

Featuring work of researchers from Canadian universities and funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the video provides a succinct introduction to the science and emerging industry of synthetic biology as well as some of the ethical, biosafety and economic impacts that these “genetically engineered machines” may have.

“The synthetic biology industry is already a multibillion dollar enterprise involving some of the worlds largest food, chemical and agribusiness companies,” said Jim Thomas, ETC’s Programme Director. “The leaders of that industry are targeting markets supplied by small farmers in the around the world; this is likely to have real negative impacts on poorer communities in the global south.”

SynBio companies have commercialized several products already, including a vanilla substitute grown by synthetically modified yeast, a coconut oil replacement produced by engineered algae, and engineered versions of patchouli and vetiver fragrances.

Less than two weeks ago, 194 nations at the United Nations convention on Biological Diversity unanimously urged governments to establish precautionary regulations and to assess synthetic biology organisms, components and products. Many countries had called for a complete global moratorium on the release of synthetic biology organisms.

“Small farmers feed over 70% of the world; if SynBio companies cut into the tiny profits they are able to make, it could have a growing negative impact on the world’s food supply,” Thomas added. “Given how little we know about the potential effects of these highly novel life forms, there are also concerns about the risk of synthetic microorganisms escaping into the air and water.”

The video released today features the work of Montreal-based animator Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre, who has dozens of film festival awards to her name, most recently for Best Short Documentary at the Saint Louis International Film Festival in 2012. Saint Pierre’s last animation was featured at the most recent Cannes International Film Festival.

“Since I started working on this video, I’ve learned that synthetic biology is quite dangerous, and without regulations it can have repercussions for workers and farmers,” said Saint-Pierre. “It was important for me to make something that’s easy to understand, so that anyone can access information about SynBio and process it.”

For information, please contact:
Jim Thomas, jim@etcgroup.org phone 1 514 516 5759
Dru Oja Jay, dru@etcgroup.org phone 1 438 930 4693
ETC Group (Montreal)
+1 514 2739994

Synthetic Biology: Inventing the Future

(January 29, 2013) — The hottest new field in biotech is synthetic biology: Scientists can now re-program life at the cellular level, just like a computer program. Syn-bio experts (also known as bio-hackers) are re-programming the DNA in viruses and creating novel life forms that can replicate and grow just like natural single cell organisms.

Joining Robert Tercek in the discussion are Andrew Hessel, Distinguished Research Scientist with the Bio/Nano Programmable Matter Group at Autodesk, and Dr. William Hurlbut, Physician and Consulting Professor at Stanford University.

Inventing the Future is a live news program featuring coming trends that will shape society. In today’s world, success means knowing “What’s Next After What’s Next?” Lead by Robert Tercek, Inventing the Future offers insight into the future of the world after tomorrow.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

US Questions Netanyahu’s Commitment to Peace

October 28th, 2014 - by admin

Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Rebecca Shimoni Stoil / The Times of Israel – 2014-10-28 22:34:12

US Questions Netanyahu’s Commitment to Peace

US Questions Netanyahu’s Commitment to Peace
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(October 27, 2014) — With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiling yet another massive settlement expansion in occupied East Jerusalem, US officials are openly expressing doubts about his commitment to the stalled peace process.

As well they ought to be. Netanyahu, opening the winter parliamentary session today, reiterated his opposition to making any concessions to the Palestinians, calling talk of peace “false hopes.”

Netanyahu went on to insist there was “broad consensus” on Israel keeping occupied East Jerusalem forever, and that since the Palestinians were never going to get it back, they shouldn’t complain about the settlements there.

Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly warned Netanyahu about the expansion over the weekend, as State Department officials say he made it clear that US opposition to any expansions had not changed.

EU officials also said the plans raise “serious questions” about whether Israel was even interested in negotiated peace. The Israeli government’s answer seems to be that they want to be officially “interested” in peace, so long as it doesn’t require them to do anything that might lead toward a peace deal, or to stop doing anything that might prevent such a pact.

US ‘Unequivocally Opposed’ to E. Jerusalem Construction
Rebecca Shimoni Stoil / The Times of Israel

WASHINGTON — (October 27, 2014) — Israel’s continued building across the Green Line is “incompatible with their stated desire to live in a peaceful society,” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday, in response to reports that Israel would continue to advance building plans in controversial Jerusalem neighborhoods.

Psaki said that while the US had yet to hear an “official announcement” that plans to build in East Jerusalem would go forward, the US is “certainly deeply concerned” by the reports.

Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the topic more broadly during a phone call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend, Psaki said, and added that the embassy was currently “engaging at the highest levels . . . to get more information” regarding Israeli plans in the city.

“We view settlement activities as illegitimate and we are unequivocally opposed to unilateral steps,” Psaki emphasized. Although she was not directly asked about the state of the relationship between Jerusalem and Washington, the State Department spokeswoman quickly added that “the defense relationships remain as strong as ever and the ties between us are unshakable” — an unusual phrasing for an often-formulaic statement of support.

Usually, such statements do not include the word “defense” as a qualifier, but speak to the larger relationship between the two states.

“There are times in which we disagree with the Israeli government,” Psaki added, drawing an apparent distinction between defense ties and political ties with governments and their policies.

Psaki drew a connection between Israel’s building in settlements and continued terror activities targeting Israeli civilians, including the vehicular attack that killed two people last Wednesday in Jerusalem. “The key challenge is, if Israel wants to live in a peaceful society, they need to take steps to reduce tensions,” Psaki admonished.

Netanyahu, at Monday’s opening of the Knesset winter session, defended Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem.

“There is wide agreement among the public that Israel has the full right to build the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem,” the prime minister said. “Every Israeli government in the last 50 years did that, and it is also clear to the Palestinians that those places will stay under Israeli control in any mutual agreement.

“The French build in Paris, the English build in London, the Israelis build in Jerusalem. Should we tell Jews not to live in Jerusalem because it will stir things up?” Netanyahu continued.

The prime minister spoke soon after sources told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu has recommended plans be advanced for about 1,000 housing units in East Jerusalem. The plans call for roughly 400 units in Har Homa, in the city’s southeast, and 660 homes in Ramat Shlomo, in the northeast corner of the capital, according to the sources in the Prime Minister’s Office. Netanyahu will also push new infrastructure projects in the West Bank, including roads that will also serve the Palestinian population, a PMO source said.

Israel’s Channel 2 news reported Sunday night that Netanyahu is also in negotiations with right-wing lawmakers and settler officials over approval for a large West Bank development project, including 2,000 new units, 12 new roads, parks, student villages, and renovation of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Child Poverty Rates Soar in World’s Richest Countries

October 28th, 2014 - by admin

Al Jazeera America – 2014-10-28 22:27:42


(October 28, 2014) — At least 2.6 million children have fallen below the poverty line in the world’s richest nations since the 2008 economic crisis, UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s aid agency, said in a report released Tuesday.

The report, “Children of the Recession,” estimated that the number of minors living in poverty in the 41 most affluent countries had increased over 3 percent to 76.5 million since the world financial crisis struck in 2008.

“Many affluent countries have suffered a ‘great leap backwards’ in terms of household income, and the impact on children will have long-lasting repercussions for them and their communities,” said Jeffrey O’Malley, UNICEF’s head of global policy and strategy.

The study assessed members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) grouping of industrialized nations as well as European Union countries. UNICEF defined poverty at 60 percent of median annual income, using a country’s relative poverty line in 2008 as a benchmark to assess income change over time.

Children were particularly hard-hit in Ireland, Croatia, Latvia, Greece and Iceland, where poverty rates rose by over 50 percent.

UNICEF said the percentage of households unable to buy meat, chicken or fish every two days had more than doubled in countries such as Estonia, Greece and Italy.

“Children are suffering most, and will bear the consequences longest, in countries where the recession has hit hardest,” the report said.

The report said while early stimulus programs in some countries were effective in shielding children, by 2010 the bulk of countries had pivoted to budget cuts.

Sweeping budget cuts in social safety nets had a serious effect, UNICEF said, adding “no government was prepared for the extent or depth of the recession” and that “many countries with higher levels of child vulnerability would have been wise to strengthen their safety nets during the pre-recession period.”

“All countries need strong social safety nets to protect children in bad times and in good — and wealthy countries should lead by example, explicitly committing to eradicate child poverty, developing policies to offset economic downturns and making child well-being a top priority,” said O’Malley.

In the United States, where extreme child poverty has risen more in this slump than during the recession of 1982, social safety nets provided key support to poor working families but were less effective for the jobless ultra-poor, UNICEF said.

Child poverty has increased in 34 out of 50 US states since the start of the crisis. In 2012, 24.2 million children were living in poverty, a net increase of 1.7 million from 2008, the study showed.

There was some good news, however. In 18 countries, child poverty actually fell, sometimes markedly. Australia, Chile, Finland, Norway, Poland and Slovakia, for example, reduced levels by around 30 percent.

Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Could Bhopal Happen Here?

October 28th, 2014 - by admin

Anna Lappe / Al Jazeera America – 2014-10-28 22:23:55


(October 28, 2014) — On Nov. 7, Martin Sheen’s latest film, A Prayer for Rain, will be released in US theaters. It brings to life the story of the tragic chemical disaster 30 years ago in Bhopal, India, and raises the question, Are we safe from a similar tragedy unfolding again? Chemical safety advocates say not very.

At 10 p.m. on Dec. 2, 1984, a gas leak started at Union Carbide’s pesticide plant in Bhopal, releasing more than 40 tons of methyl isocyanate and other chemicals. Within half an hour, nearby residents were coughing, experiencing burning eyes and having difficulty breathing.

It would take another two and a half hours before sirens alerted the city of the disaster and six before the leak was brought under control. By that time, the damage had already been done: More than 10,000 people died in the immediate wake of the disaster, many from cardiac and respiratory arrest. Officials estimate hundreds of thousands of people have been affected over the decades, in the form of birth defects, increased infant mortality, learning disabilities and respiratory and vision problems.

The Bhopal plant — operated by Union Carbide and now owned by Dow Chemical — was similar in design to many chemical plants here in the United States. Bhopal was alarming to US chemical safety advocates and the American public. We realized we didn’t know what was in our own backyard.

Since then, federal regulations were supposed to protect Americans from a similar disaster unfolding here, but government interventions have been too few and far between. Thirty years on, public safety advocates say the US hasn’t done enough to improve the safety of chemical manufacturing. But a new regulation up for public comment might finally change all that.

A recent study found 473 chemical facilities that would each put more than 100,000 people at risk if there were a serious accident. Of those, 89 jeopardize the safety of 1 million people or more. One-third of Americans, the study found, live close enough to a chemical facility that they’re at risk of being affected by a toxic leak caused by accident, natural disaster or terrorist attack.

Today advocates say we’ve finally got regulation on the table that could dramatically improve how the industry is regulated. Based on an executive order to improve chemical facility safety and security that President Barack Obama signed last year, it calls for improving the monitoring of and reducing the risks posed by chemical manufacturing around the country.

And we the people finally have a voice. The Environmental Protection Agency’s public comment period, which closes on Oct. 29, gives everyday Americans a chance to weigh in. It’s an opportunity to let regulators know that we want real enforcement of safety regulations at our country’s most dangerous chemical plants.

Uneven History
In 1984, shaken by Bhopal, legislators began exploring regulations in the US to prevent a similar accident here. Two years later, Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, which established various monitoring and reporting systems to improve safety protocols, including the Toxic Releases Inventory (TRI), which requires companies to report if they produce more than 25,000 pounds of a listed chemical or handle more than 10,000 pounds of it.

A few years later, in 1990, amendments to the Clean Air Act, known as “Bhopal” provisions, established the Risk Management Program to help prevent chemical accidents an authorized the Chemical Safety Board to investigate such accidents and recommend safety procedures.

It’s high time to ensure more regular inspections of facilities, protect whistleblowers and modernize worker protection programs.

But these interventions haven’t created the kind of protections that advocates say we need. The Chemical Safety Board, for instance, may only study accidents and produce recommendations; it can’t issue violations or fines. The TRI doesn’t have any real teeth either, and it covers only 549 chemicals, though more than 70,000 are on the market. As Rick Hind, the legislative director at Greenpeace told me, “With the Toxic Releases Inventory, we got the right to know, but we also wanted the right to ban.”

As for the Risk Management Program, companies are required to report on their production volumes just once every five years, on only 140 chemicals. Though the program requires companies to develop an “off-site consequence analysis” — a gauge of how many people would be affected by an accidental chemical release within a certain radius of a plant — it’s based only on that small subset of chemicals and on the single largest tank of each.

Finally, one of the most important elements of the Bhopal amendment, known as the general duty clause, states that facilities must be designed and operated in ways that prevent a catastrophic release of dangerous chemicals. It sounds like common sense, but the clause has been enforced sporadically.

The revisions to the Risk Management Program, up for public comment now, would at long last put real muscle behind the general duty clause, ensuring more regular inspections of facilities, protecting whistleblowers and modernizing worker protection programs.

In addition, the EPA is considering requiring facilities to switch to safer chemicals or processes, as the Clorox Co. did voluntarily when it agreed to phase out the use of chlorine gas in its US facilities from 2009 to 2012. According to Greenpeace, the company’s decision “eliminated catastrophic risks from chlorine gas to 13.6 million Americans living downwind of its facilities.”

The urgency for supporting these improvements to the Risk Management Program is even more apparent since the 9/11 attacks, when lawmakers realized that 12,700 chemical facilities in the country could be easy targets for terrorism. The following spring the EPA prepared to issue guidance for safer technologies and facilities, but the George W. Bush administration blocked the proposals, the chemical industry lobbied against them, and Congress stalled any further progress.

What Now?
It has taken more than a decade for renewed political leadership to take up the matter. Last year’s fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, which killed 17 and injured more than 100 others, issued a wakeup call. The accident revealed just how weak the protocols are for public safety. The anhydrous ammonium that caused the accident, for example, is not one of the 140 chemicals required for reporting under the Risk Management Program, though it is highly explosive.

The accident spurred Obama to issue his executive order, reviving the general duty clause. Advocates have been urging the public to speak up for chemical safety during the EPA’s comment period.

More than 100 environmental justice, labor, public health, national security and environmental organizations that form the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters are calling on the EPA to support the order to “prevent chemical plant disasters rather than ‘manage’ them.”

“This is now a once-in-a generation opportunity to finally activate the Bhopal amendment in the Clean Air Act,” said Hind. (His organization, Greenpeace, is a member of the coalition.) Let’s hope the EPA agrees.

By the time Sheen and Mischa Barton hit the big screen in “A Prayer for Rain,” the public comment period will be closed, and the EPA will be setting to work on drafting new policy. We’ll have to wait and see whether the call for serious action is heard louder than industry’s continued call for less regulation.

Anna Lappe is the author of Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It and a co-founder of the Small Planet Institute and Real Food Media Project.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America‘s editorial policy.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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