Trident Rally is Britain’s Biggest Anti-nuclear March in a Generation Mark Townsend / The Guardian
LONDON (February 27, 2016) — Thousands of protesters have assembled in central London for Britain’s biggest anti-nuclear weapons rally in a generation.
Campaigners gathered from across the world: some said they had travelled from Australia to protest against the renewal of Trident. Others had come from the west coast of Scotland, where Britain’s nuclear deterrent submarines are based.
As the huge column of people began moving from Marble Arch after 1pm, the mood was buoyant and spirited despite the cold.
Naomi Young, 34, from Southampton said: “You can’t use nuclear weapons. You would destroy the environment and kill hundreds of thousands of people. Why spend Â£100bn to buy a weapon unless you want to destroy the earth?”
Many waved placards with phrases including “Books Not Bombs”, “Cut War Not Welfare” and “NHS Not Trident”.
A common theme among protesters was the cost of renewing Trident during a period of austerity.
Andy Pomphrey, 67, from Hampshire, said: “It’s such an excessive amount of money for a weapons system when the NHS and junior doctors, are struggling.”
Kai Carrwright, 17, from Exeter said: “We are having to pay to go to university and yet they want to spend Â£100bn on something that can only lead to the destruction of life on Earth.”
The campaigners headed for Trafalgar Square where were addressed by the leaders of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green party. The true draw — cited as an inspiration by many of those assembled — was the leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, whose unswerving unilateralist stance has electrified the nuclear deterrent debate in a manner few could have foreseen.
As crowds built from midday close to the assembly point at Marble Arch, it quickly became evident that the event would mark the biggest anti-nuclear demonstration since 1983, when 300,000 gathered in London’s Hyde Park to demonstrate against the deployment of Cruise missiles at Greenham Common, Berkshire. Union officials, faith leaders, anti-nuclear activists and anti-war campaigners were evident. Stewards estimated the numbers ran into “many tens of thousands”.
Organisers of the march, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, were confident the turnout would send a robust message of growing support against renewing the nuclear weapons system — at an estimated cost of least Â£41 billion — and argued that worries about job losses were a red herring.
Corbyn’s decision to address the rally later on Saturday has further exposed a faultline through the party, and he has been criticised by some for highlighting party splits on a key debate.
Entering the stage to rapturous applause, he said that no one should forget the “absolute mass destruction on both sides” that would follow a nuclear attack and reiterated his “total horror of nuclear weapons, should they ever be used by anybody”.
Corbyn said he was elected Labour leader on a manifesto in which standing against the renewal of Trident was a key component.
He acknowledged the party’s role in the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty and urged: “I want to see a Labour government that would adhere to all the articles of the non-proliferation treaty.”
The treaty had worked, given that most countries that did not have nuclear weapons at that time had not subsequently acquired them, Corbyn told the crowd. It was a credit to countries such as Argentina, South Africa and Brazil that both Africa and South America remained free of such weapons, he added.
The US, Russia and the UK signed the treaty, pledging their cooperation in stemming the spread of nuclear technology.
Corbyn, who said he joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament when he was 16, also made reference to those who questioned whether he should be attending the protest: “A lot of people said that maybe it was utterly relevant maybe you shouldn’t be there, but I want to be here because of my belief in a nuclear-free future.”
He said he chose to address the demonstration because he believed in a “different kind of politics in a different kind of world, a world that emphasises dealing with the crying needs of the poor and homeless in this country. Those that are going short and suffering public spending cuts.”
Earlier this week, union activists from the GMB attacked Corbyn over his stance on Trident, warning that tens of thousands of skilled jobs were dependent on parliamentary backing for renewal of the nuclear submarine programme.
He advocated re-investing some of the money allocated for Trident on keeping jobs in the affected areas.
Actor Vanessa Redgrave, Rou Reynolds of rock band Enter Shikari, and comedian Francesca Martinez also addressed the rally. Other high-profile speakers include writer and priest Giles Fraser, and the writer Tariq Ali.
The rally received support from a number of cultural figures including bands Young Fathers and Massive Attack. Fashion designer Katharine Hamnett recently unveiled a new Stop Trident T-shirt range while Portishead’s Geoff Barrow is currently mixing a single in support of the campaign.
The event also received significant international support with campaigners from Japan, the only country to have suffered an attack by an atomic bomb, urging Britain to work towards disarmament.
Gensuikyo, the Japan Council against A and H Bombs, joined similar organisations from France, Switzerland, Italy, New Zealand and the US in sending messages of support and solidarity to the CND, the organisers of Saturday’s demonstration.
The Successor programme to replace the four Vanguard nuclear armed submarines currently carrying Trident missiles is now priced at Â£31bn, with a further Â£10bn set aside for unforeseen risks.
A parliamentary vote on renewing Trident is expected later in the year.
(February 25, 2016) — The people of Spain, Sweden, Canada, Mexico and almost all of the world’s other countries didn’t wake up this morning and feel unsafe because they don’t have nuclear weapons.
They did wake up in a less secure world because of the existence of these hideous weapons of mass destruction.
Trident nuclear weapons don’t protect us in Britain, or any other nuclear power, from terrorism, stop the devastating effects of climate change or promote human rights and democracy around the world — the true foundations of future security.
As a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Britain is, or should be, committed to working to rid the world of nuclear weapons — an effort that’s been stepped up recently by the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) on the issue.
It is backed by 138 countries — we were one of the few in opposition. And we did not attend the talks — a disgraceful snub to an important international effort.
We have 1% of the world’s nuclear weapons. That’s militarily insignificant, even though the missiles on one Trident submarine (what we have operational at one time as standard) could kill 10 million people and start a nuclear winter.
Getting rid of them could have a massive positive impact, a huge boost to rid the world of this danger and move the hands of the Doomsday Clock further away from midnight.
When talking about Trident, it’s tempting to focus on the price-tag. The cost, at the latest count of Â£167billion, is enough to fully fund A&E services for 40 years, employ 150,000 new nurses, build 1.5million affordable homes, build 30,000 new primary schools or cover tuition fees for four million students.
But that isn’t the biggest issue here. The biggest issue is the future security of the world.
Despite David Cameron saying he’d use the nuclear button, even the proponents of Trident agree that these are unusable weapons, but their very existence creates the risk of use.
And concerns about the risk of misunderstanding, mishap or hacking leading to the firing of a nuclear weapon are significant. So are safety concerns: William McNeilly, a member of the Royal Navy who was until very recently stationed at Faslane, published a report last May with details of 30 serious breaches.
Trident is a danger, not a security measure.
We’re currently in a real period of political change — from the election of (anti-Trident) Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader to the success of the left-wing positioned (and strongly anti-Trident) SNP over rightwing Labour in Scotland — even the surprising progress of Bernie Sanders, with some very different ideas about US foreign policy in the US Democratic race.
And we’re coming up to the major decision on Trident replacement.
Now is the time to step up the pressure for Britain to get rid of Trident and not replace it.
That’s why I’m confident the CND national demonstration against Trident on 27 February will be big, very big.
Green MP Caroline Lucas will be there, as will many Green Party members.
We’ve consistently maintained complete opposition to nuclear weapons over decades, in line with our principles and values.
And we’ve got a government that — having won the vote of just 24% of eligible voters — doesn’t have a mandate to make the massive, dangerous decision of replacing Trident.
Please join the call to scrap Trident — on the streets of London, online, in your conversations with friends, classmates, colleagues and family.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(April 17, 2014) — The US is dominated by a rich and powerful elite. So concludes a recent study by Princeton University Prof Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Prof Benjamin I Page.
This is not news, you say.
Perhaps, but the two professors have conducted exhaustive research to try to present data-driven support for this conclusion. Here’s how they explain it: Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.
In English: The wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power.
The two professors came to this conclusion after reviewing answers to 1,779 survey questions asked between 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues. They broke the responses down by income level, and then determined how often certain income levels and organised interest groups saw their policy preferences enacted.
“A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favour) is adopted only about 18% of the time,” they write, “while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favour) is adopted about 45% of the time.”
On the other hand: When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.
They conclude: Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.
Eric Zuess, writing in Counterpunch, isn’t surprised by the survey’s results: “American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it’s pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation’s “news” media),” he writes. “The US, in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious ‘electoral’ ‘democratic’ countries. We weren’t formerly, but we clearly are now.”
This is the “Duh Report”, says Death and Taxes magazine’s Robyn Pennacchia. Maybe, she writes, Americans should just accept their fate.
“Perhaps we ought to suck it up, admit we have a classist society and do like England where we have a House of Lords and a House of Commoners,” she writes, “instead of pretending as though we all have some kind of equal opportunity here.”
(April 15, 2014) — Pollingreport.com has the results of hundreds of recent polls on just about every political subject imaginable; and the results on the vast majority of the polling questions produce liberal responses. . . .
On the vast majority of polled questions, Americans show that they favor the liberal or Democratic position, and oppose the conservative or Republican position.
If the public were rational, Democrats would overwhelmingly control the US Government. Even on polled support or self-identification by voters regarding the two Parties, Democrats have always had a lead, usually a substantial lead.
On 8 January 2014, Gallup bannered “Record-High 42% of Americans Identify as Independents: Republican identification lowest in at least 25 years,” and reported that, “Republican identification fell to 25%, the lowest over that time span. At 31%, Democratic identification is unchanged from the last four years but down from 36% in 2008.”
However, Republicans win most “elections”; and most predictions for this November are for Republicans to win control in the Senate and expand their control in the House. Why is this?
On January 10th, Gallup bannered, “Liberal Self-Identification Edges Up to New High in 2013,” and reported that 38% of Americans self-identified as “Conservative,” and only 23% self-identified as “Liberal.” 43% of Democrats said they were “Liberal,” but 70% of Republican self-identified as “Conservative.” Ever since Ronald Reagan, conservative self-identification is much stronger.
For decades, most voters self-describe as “Conservative” and yet most voters also self-describe as “Democrat,” though those two identities oppose each other, and though Americans are actually overwhelmingly liberal on the issues.
So, perhaps one explanation for Republicans winning most political contests is that most Americans are voting their ideological self-identity instead of their Party self-identity and their actual policy-positions and policy-values — which are liberal.
If that’s so, then one might say that the conservative mystique ever since the time of Ronald Reagan overwhelms voters’ Party affiliation and policy-positions and thus determines their actual voting, more than anything rational actually does.
Perhaps part of this conundrum is also a result of Americans being heavily inundated with conservative propaganda from the aristocracy, who are overwhelmingly conservative.
For example, a study . . . in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, finds that the US is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, ruled by an aristocracy, so that the answer to the study’s opening question, “Who governs? Who really rules?” in this country, is: “Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, . . . ” and then they go on to say, it’s not true, and that: “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened” by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead “the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America].
“When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
To put it short: The United States is no democracy, but actually an oligarchy.
The authors of this historically important study are Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, and their article is titled “Testing Theories of American Politics.” The authors clarify that the data available are probably under-representing the actual extent of control of the US by the super-rich: “Economic Elite Domination theories do rather well in our analysis, even though our findings probably understate the political influence of elites.
“Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans — though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases — is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups.
“Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater.”
Nonetheless, this is the first-ever scientific study of the question of whether the US is a democracy. “Until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions [that US policymaking operates as a democracy, versus as an oligarchy, versus as some mixture of the two] against each other within a single statistical model.
This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.” That’s an enormous number of policy-issues studied.
What the authors are able to find, despite the deficiencies of the data, is important: the first-ever scientific analysis of whether the US is a democracy, or is instead an oligarchy, or some combination of the two.
The clear finding is that the US is an oligarchy, no democratic country, at all. American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it’s pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation’s “news” media).
The US, in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious “electoral” “democratic” countries. We weren’t formerly, but we clearly are now. Today, after this exhaustive analysis of the data, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” That’s it, in a nutshell.
And that’s why most Americans are actually liberals who call themselves conservatives and who vote for conservative politicians that favor policies and values those voters actually oppose.
Are most voters mental zombies who are actually manipulated by oligarchs? That seems to describe today’s American “democracy.”
Eric Zuesse is an investigative historian and the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010 and of Christ’s Ventriloquists: The Event that Created Christianity.
(July 15, 2014) — France makes the list of top 10 fans of the US and Germany makes the list of the top 10 critics.
A decade ago anti-Americanism was on the rise around the world, in large part thanks to public opposition to the US invasion of Iraq.
Today, despite recent revelations of US National Security Agency spying on foreign leaders and global opposition to US drone strikes, there is little evidence of profound anti-Americanism except in a handful of countries, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of 44 nations.
Foreigners’ love affair with the United States remains strong in Africa and most of Asia, Europe and Latin America. But who likes Uncle Sam, who doesn’t and whose affections are evolving paints a pretty accurate road map of the overseas challenges facing Washington in the years ahead.
Anti-Americanism is particularly strong today in the Middle East. In Egypt only 10% of the public favor the United States, which long backed the regime of Hosni Mubarak and failed to oppose the military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government that succeeded him. Support is not much higher in Jordan (12%) and Turkey (19%), both countries that are notionally Washington’s allies.
Those not-so-warm feelings for America have fallen 17 percentage points in Egypt and 13 points in Jordan since 2009, the first year of the Obama administration, when there appeared to be some hope in those nations that Uncle Sam would pursue policies more to their liking.
In addition, less than a quarter of Russians (23%) have a positive view of America, whose image is down 28 points in just the last year, a casualty of Washington’s opposition to Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.
But there are still corners of the world where America is held in high regard. In European countries surveyed, half or more of the publics in seven of nine nations say they see the US in a positive light. Top of the list are Italians (78%), French (75%) and Poles (73%).
Only in Germany, where US favorability is down 13 points since 2009, has the positive image of the United States slipped significantly. And, despite this slippage, roughly half of Germans (51%) still see America favorably.
Asians are also pro-American. In fact, the Filipinos are the biggest fans of the US; 92% express a positive view. South Koreans (82%), Bangladeshis (76%) and Vietnamese (76%) also agree.
Even half the Chinese give Uncle Sam a thumbs up. However, Pakistanis (14%) share no love for the United States (but neither do Americans have much affection for Pakistan).
The US is also feeling the love from Latin America, where majorities see the US in a favorable light in eight of nine countries surveyed.
Salvadorans (80%) are particularly positive in their assessment, as are Chileans (72%) and Nicaraguans (71%). Notably, despite all the tensions between Washington and Caracas, more than six-in-ten Venezuelans have a favorable opinion of the US
And Africans express particularly positive views about America. Strong majorities in all seven nations surveyed back the United States, including roughly three-quarters or more of Kenyans (80%), Ghanaians (77%), Tanzanians (75%) and Senegalese (74%).
Our Global Indicators Database lets you explore public opinion in countries around the world on a range of issues and attitudes.
Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at Pew Research Center.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
UK Parliamentary Committee Calls for Halt to Arms Sales Moots International Inquiry into Alleged International Law Abuses Felicity Arbuthnot / Dissident Voice
Mercurial: “Subject to sudden or unpredictable changes of mood or mind.”
LONDON (February 5, 2016) — In a woefully belated but welcome initiative the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee, the influential cross party oversight body which scrutinizes the Department for International Development, has called for a suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
In context, the reason for the Committee’s stance is related to the black farce of one arm of the UK government providing aid to Yemen, as other arms are providing the advice, aircraft and weaponry to Saudi Arabia to assist in the destruction of the ancient nation whose shores are lapped by the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.
Saudi Arabia has been decimating southern neighbor, Yemen, since March 2015, inflicting devastating destruction. By September last year, former UN Assistant Secretary General, Nigel Fisher wrote that 93% of the deaths and injuries were civilian.
Moreover, quoting from the Report “State of Crisis: Explosive Weapons in Yemen”, he pointed out that: “The intensity of explosive violence in the country has meant that more civilian deaths and injuries from explosive weapons were recorded â€¦ during the first seven months of 2015 than in any other country in the world.” Given the Western generated carnage in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria alone, it is a chilling record.
In spite of this, according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) which is currently threatening the government with legal action over arms sales: “The UK government has licensed Â£6.7 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since David Cameron took office in 2010, including Â£2.8 billion since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015.”
CAAT has welcomed the International Development Committee’s stance on arms sales with the fact that it has now also ended opposition to an international inquiry into allegations of alleged abuses of international law in Yemen.
“The humanitarian situation is getting worse and the UK government has been complicit in it. We agree that arms sales need to stop, but they should never have been allowed in the first place. Saudi Arabia has a terrible human rights record and has been supported by governments of all political colours for far too long”, commented CAAT’s Andrew Smith.
In January 2016, London Law firm Leigh Day, representing CAAT, issued a pre-action protocol letter for judicial review challenging the government’s decision to export arms to Saudi Arabia despite increasing evidence that Saudi forces are violating international humanitarian law (IHL) in Yemen. At the time of writing the government is yet to respond.
Mr Smith added: “The government is always telling us how rigorous and robust its arms export system is. This is further evidence that nothing could be further from the truth. The UK has continuously armed some of the most abusive regimes in the world.”
Nigel Fisher pondered on the “horrifying trend in twentieth and twenty first century warfare” with “massive air force bombings of a defenceless civilian population.”
He cites Guernica, the incendiary bombings of Dresden (Hamburg must also never be forgotten) those of Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka and, of course, the nuclear attacks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
However, rather than these unimaginable horrors acting as an absolute “never again” commitment, in defiance of a swathe of international laws, the fine founding words of the UN, the International Declaration of Human rights, the Geneva Convention, they might all never have been written, signed, ratified.
Each unimaginable crime has simply been a siren call for bigger, more apocalyptic, humanity incinerating, scorched earth policy weaponry, created, ordered, and sold for use against countries posing no threat to the decimators but which have oil, gas, minerals which they wish to steal, not buy. Policies equivalent to thieves in the night, murdering their victims to steal the car, television and jewellery box. Simply criminality on a massively larger scale.
Fisher writes of the “willful brutality of our world” and asks: “Is it only occasionally that photos of young children like Alan Kurdi will rouse us to action? I hope not. Our fellow citizens caught up in the horror of armed conflict deserve better.” Indeed. But Britain’s approach under the Cameron regime is not only evil, but schizophrenic.
Last September, ironically on September 11th, Oxfam stated on an anniversary bringing Yemen, as other countries attacked since, its own ongoing 9/11s: There is a paradox at the heart of the government’s approach to Yemen. On the one hand the Department for International Development is funding efforts to help civilians caught up in the conflict, while on the other the Government is fuelling the conflict that is causing unbearable human suffering.
The UK successfully lobbied hard over many years for a UN Arms Trade Treaty to regulate the arms trade, which came into being last year. This Government has incorporated the treaty into national law, yet at the first test of the new law it has turned a blind eye to mounting evidence of potential misuse of its weapons and support.
In 2013, David Cameron hailed the Arms Trade Treaty as a landmark agreement that would ‘save lives and ease the immense human suffering caused by armed conflict around the world.’ He said Britain should be proud of the role it had played in securing an agreement that would make the world safer for all.
It can only be hoped that the International Development Committee’s initiative bears fruit, that other countries follow and that it also results in David Cameron’s mercurial mind shifts transforming into the responsible, steady gravitas which should be a given for one of his position.
Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist with special knowledge of Iraq. Author, with Nikki van der Gaag, of Baghdad in the Great City series for World Almanac books, she has also been Senior Researcher for two Award-winning documentaries on Iraq, John Pilger’s Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq and Denis Halliday Returns for RTE (Ireland.) Read other articles by Felicity.
LONDON (February 5, 2016) — Britain has come under renewed pressure to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia after the UN secretary general accused the Saudis of indiscriminate bombing in Yemen and said countries such as the UK had a duty to stop the flow of weapons to Riyadh-led forces.
Speaking in London, Ban Ki-moon said: “Yemen is in flames and coalition airstrikes in particular continue to strike schools, hospitals, mosques and civilian infrastructure.”
He claimed that Yemen “was awash with weapons”, adding: “We need states that are party to [the] arms trade treaty to set an example in fulfilling one of the treaty’s main purposes — controlling arms flows to actors that may use them in ways that breach international humanitarian law”.
Ban said permanent members of the UN security council, including the UK, had a special responsibility to secure peace in intractable conflicts.
The normally mild mannered Ban made his pointed remarks in a speech in which he bemoaned the failure of major powers to live up to their promises to prevent massacres and human rights abuses on the scale of Syria, Rwanda, Srebrenica, Cambodia and Yemen. The promises of “never again”, he said, have become more muted.
The UK’s international development select committee, supported by the Labour party leadership, this week called on the government to suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia and set up an independent international inquiry into the allegations made by the UN panel.
Partly under pressure from the UK Foreign Office, Saudi Arabia has set up its own inquiry into the allegations, but the committee said an inquiry conducted by the Saudis into their own actions was unacceptable.
The UN panel documented that the coalition had conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law. These included: * Camps for internally displaced persons and refugees
* Civilian gatherings including weddings
* Civilian vehicles, including buses, and civilian residential areas
* Medical facilities, schools, mosques, markets, factories, food storage warehouses and other essential civilian infrastructure, such as Sana’a airport and domestic transit routes
Britain has denied allegations that it has influence over the Saudi targeting, but admitted being involved in training some of the pilots involved in the airstrikes. The UK has granted close to Â£3bn of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia in the past six months.
It is the first time that Ban has commented on the scale of the alleged atrocities in Yemen. The secretary general was speaking at an event organised by the United Nations Association UK and Chatham House at Central Hall in Westminster, where the UN first met 70 years ago. He was in London as the UN was acting as the co-sponsor of the international fundraising conference that generated nearly $10bn (Â£6.9bn) for Syrian refugees over the next few years.
Ban also gave a broad hint that he wants a woman to succeed him as secretary general later this year, saying that the whole landscape is changed when there is a woman at the top of political organisations.
“It is proven [that] companies with large numbers of women on their boards are more successful and profitable,” he said. In another broad hint, he said the empowerment of women was at the top of his agenda at the helm of the UN.
Ban is due to stand down at the end of 2016 after nine years in the top job, and the jostling for succession for the most important diplomatic post in the world is already under way.
His criticism of Saudi Arabia comes after the country began bombing Yemen last March in an attempt to push back Houthi rebels who had managed to take control of the capital, Sana’a, and force the president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to flee. Hadi is backed by the Saudis, while the Houthi rebels are aligned, at least loosely, with Iran.
Britain is under some diplomatic pressure to loosen its ties with Saudi Arabia since Iran, the kingdom’s arch rival in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, is making overtures to the west in the wake of the historic nuclear deal that led to the lifting of sanctions against Iran last month.
The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, met the UK foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, in London on Friday to discuss Syria and the possible role Iran could play in bringing about an end to the civil war. Iran clearly believes that Saudi Arabia is behaving as a disruptive force in the peace talks and will not accept that Iran has a legitimate role in acting as one of the international partners responsible for guaranteeing any peace deal in Syria.
Faced by a brutal Russian air bombardment that is strengthening the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, by the day, western powers are becoming less vocal in their demand that he must go at the end of the process. The UK is exploring the extent to which Iran could press Assad to remain in situ, either in a ceremonial role or by dispersing power within Syria, possibly along the lines of the Iraqi constitution.
Neither Iran nor Russia will accept a power vacuum in Damascus, arguing that this would mean Syria being handed over to Islamic State.
(January 20, 2016) — An editorial in a pro-Saudi government newspaper as well as the words of Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister suggest that the Sunni kingdom may be considering aiming to develop a nuclear capability timed to coincide with the expiration of the international nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia’s archrival Iran.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir gave an interview to Reuters Tuesday, during which he avoided ruling out the possibility that the Saudis could pursue developing a nuclear bomb.
Reuters reported: Asked in an exclusive interview if Saudi Arabia had discussed seeking a nuclear bomb in the event Iran managed to obtain one despite its atomic deal, he said Saudi Arabia would do “whatever we need to do in order to protect our people”.
“I don’t think it would be logical to expect us to discuss any such issue in public and I don’t think it would be reasonable to expect me to answer this question one way or another,” he said.
A Sunday editorial in the Saudi pro-government daily paper Al-Riyadh set out a “road map” for constructing nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes timed to the expiration of the Iran deal.
The Middle East Media Research Institute published excerpts of the editorial titled, “What Will Happen in 15 Years?” which pointed to the year 2031 when the Iran deal’s restrictions are lifted and Iran might be free to pursue nuclear weapons.
A Saudi nuclear program would be one way of countering Iran’s potential future progress in nuclear weapons, the editorial suggested.
“In 2031, [this] nuclear agreement will be consigned to the U.N. archives, and Iran will be free to do whatever it pleases regarding its nuclear program,” the editorial said. “This, because most of the restrictions imposed [on Iran] by the articles of this agreement expire in 15 years. In the interim, Iran will enrich uranium to a level of no more than 3.67 percent, which is the safe level. But what happens after 15 years?”
“What we need to do, even today, is begin preparing a nuclear program for peaceful purposes so as to gain the necessary knowledge about the nuclear fuel cycle and build nuclear reactors for producing electricity and desalinating water, [thus] varying our energy sources,” the editors wrote.
“A brief review of the nuclear programs in the region leaves us confident of Saudi Arabia’s ability to begin building nuclear reactors and complete them before 2031,” the editors added, saying that Saudi Arabia should “set out a timetable or a clear road map for a civilian nuclear program to meet Saudi Arabia’s goals.”
They added, “2030 will be set as the date for activating the first nuclear reactor.”
The paper observed that President Barack Obama had offered Iran a “lifeline” by lifting nuclear-related economic sanctions.
“The fact is that the American president has thrown the Iranian regime a lifeline that will ensure its survival, and North Korea is an example of how nuclear power can constitute a shield for diseased regimes,” the editorial read. “This philosophy [of Obama’s] should not interest us at all.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Trident: An Icon of Militarism Nadia Mitchell / Veterans for Peace
LONDON (February 25, 2016) — The dominant mode of thought which has historically influenced the way in which states view security claim that at the basis of politics lies a drive for power which is rooted in human nature making conflicts inevitable.
History is marked by recurring patterns of conflict and repeated use of tactics such as deterrence and power balancing against enemies.
States compelled by threat of extinction will prioritise their own security, ensuring the security and survival of the state is from which all other spheres of life can occur, such as welfare, education, human rights etc. This has historically been the justification with regards to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
In this view the five nuclear weapon states as recognised by the Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT) have managed to avoid war directly with one another, not least in part due to the threat of ‘mutually assured destruction’ (under the aptly named acronym MAD).
There are even arguments for a nuclear armed Iran, as this would restore a power balance to the Middle-East against a nuclear armed Israel, in a similar way that deterrence applies between two of the non-NPT nuclear states of Pakistan and India.
And it is this justification of power balancing which continually undermines the NPT, the Nash Equilibrium outcome shows us that whilst neither side is motivated towards nuclear conflict, nor is it motivated to disarm, and this is why the renewal of Trident is even on the table, when the UK should be focusing on meeting its disarmament commitments.
There is no way of telling if nuclear superpowers have genuinely avoided war thanks to nuclear weapons, what we do know is that war, whilst on the decline in the post WW2 years, has not been eliminated thanks to nuclear weapons, the Cold War years which were marked by proxy wars between nuclear superpowers US and former USSR are testament to that.
The proliferation of nuclear weapons is just one way in which states have used military force to maintain power balancing, states have always used military force as a deterrent, and it’s important to see nuclear weapons and military might as two sides of the same coin — nuclear weapons are but an extension of that same train of thought and fit well within this paradigm.
But is this really where the threat to our security lies? Well first, we have to unpick what we mean when we talk about security. Arguments supporting the renewal of Trident focus on a view of a powerful state being best placed to provide security to its citizens.
The consequence of this is that to ensure security a state must put its own population in a hostage situation to an adversary’s nuclear weapons.
One alternative critical focus on security focuses on individuals within states, and suggests this focus on states as a cause of insecurities, not least because focusing on states security obscures the insecurities of individuals within states.
As renowned Critical Security Studies scholar Ken Booth points out the primary threats faced by individuals come not from foreign armies, but from economic collapse, political oppression, scarcity, overpopulation, ethnic rivalry, environmental degradation, terrorism, crime and disease.
None of these problems and causes of insecurities can be solved by spending billions upgrading never-to-be-used nuclear weapons systems. Alongside high military spending comes the militarisation of societies which bring with them a whole host of insecurities, research of the highly militarised societies of Israel show a link between the militarisation and the prevalence of domestic violence.
Feminist International Relations scholar Cynthia Cockburn describes this phenomenon as a “continuum of violence” and that “the violence of militarisation and war, profoundly gendered, spills back into everyday life and increases the quotient of violence in it”.
Opposition to nuclear weapons and the renewal of Trident therefore must be seen in the context of opposition to increased militarisation.
To dedicate billions of pounds to perpetuate this state of existence as hostages to nuclear annihilation by other nuclear states is not only difficult to comprehend, it detracts us from asking deeper questions about our highly militarised societies in which prioritising the need to prepare us for violence between states become a self-fulfilling prophecy in creating violence within our societies.
Nadia Mitchell served in the British Army and is a Veteran For Peace.
LONDON (February 25, 2016) — On Saturday we will put our party allegiances aside and march together for a Britain free from nuclear weapons.
As elected politicians, our overwhelming priority is to protect the safety of the people we represent, and it is our firm belief that renewing Trident will not only fail to improve Britain’s security, but will increase the dangers we face.
Trident is an outdated weapon system from a bygone age. The government’s own analysis has relegated “weapons’ proliferation” to being a “tier 2” threat — below far more pressing concerns such as terrorism, public health and major natural hazards.
Nuclear missiles have the potential to cause devastation and death on an unimaginable scale, but they do nothing to hinder lone gunmen or extremists. Their very presence on these islands — and the transport of nuclear warheads on our roads — presents not only a target for terrorism but a continued risk of accidents linked to human error or technical failure.
A recent report from Chatham House confirms this threat, listing 13 occasions from across the world when nuclear weapons were nearly launched accidentally.
As Patricia Lewis, Chatham House’s research director for international security explained, it’s not hard to imagine a situation where global tensions have risen, signals are sent and “people misinterpret what is going on”. Errors occur in even the best designed systems, but with nuclear weapons, mistakes could be fatal for millions.
If we’re serious about ridding the world of nuclear weapons and fulfilling our obligations under the international non-proliferation treaty, then genuine disarmament is our duty and our responsibility.
Keeping a nuclear weapons capability sends a dangerous signal to the rest of the world that security is dependent on being able to use weapons of mass destruction, and thus drives proliferation.
Ultimately, countries retain their nuclear weapons because of the perceived threat from other nuclear armed states.
Only genuine disarmament can end the proliferation cycle, deter new nuclear development and create the conditions to move towards what President Barack Obama described in 2009 as the “peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”. Britain can play a part in ridding the world of these weapons, but not if we refuse to lay down our own nuclear arms.
Not renewing Trident would not only be the best move for our security, it would also free up resources that are far better spent elsewhere.
The Â£100bn (and counting) lifetime spend on Trident would be far better invested in the foundations of real security and wellbeing — the best possible safety equipment for our troops, our NHS, affordable homes and education, and decent jobs for a future that will increasingly need renewable, sustainable energy sources that don’t destroy our environment.
Of course, any move to scrap Trident must not be at the expense of providing decent jobs for people who work in manufacturing, transporting and servicing the nuclear arsenal. It is our firm belief that the abolition of Trident must be matched by a programme of diversification and alternative employment.
The government’s recent strategic defence and security review took place in the context of the UK’s commitment to the goal of a world without weapons.
That commitment needs to be more than empty rhetoric. We have an opportunity to make real progress towards multilateral nuclear disarmament by working with the majority of UN member states on taking forward multilateral negotiations aimed at prohibiting nuclear weapons and creating the conditions for their total elimination.
We believe that a forward-looking defence and security strategy would redouble efforts to work with other nations to address some of the most pressing global threats the government has identified: climate change; transnational trafficking in weapons, people and drugs; and the poverty and desperation that fuel conflicts, hunger and violence around the world.
Replacing Trident is neither necessary nor sensible. The evidence is stacked against spending billions of pounds on these exceptionally dangerous weapons. They won’t make us safer. The Westminster parliament will soon choose whether to join the vast majority of nuclear-free nations by moving on from Trident. It would be bold for Britain to ditch this weapons system, but it would be the right thing to do.
We are uniting to march together for that very cause — we hope you’ll join us.
Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Caroline Lucas will be speaking at the Stop Trident march on Saturday in London
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
US Marshals Make Arrests over Non-payment of Student Loans RT News
HOUSTON (February 16, 2016) — Being behind on student loan payments in Texas could cost you more than your credit score. The US Marshals Service in Houston is arresting people who aren’t paying their federal student debt.
Paul Aker said that seven deputy US Marshals showed up at his Houston home in combat gear.
“I was wondering, why are you here. I am home, I haven’t done anything,” he told Fox 26, adding that he didn’t receive any notice about a $1,500 student loan he received in 1987.
He claims he was taken to federal court, where he signed a payment plan for the debt.
“It was totally mind-boggling,” Aker said.
This is far from an isolated incident, a source told the station. It isn’t the first time Marshals have served someone for being behind on loans, and they are planning to serve between 1,200 and 1,500 other people who have student debt.
Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) told Fox 26 that it’s worrisome that private debt collectors are able to use US Marshals as muscle to retrieve payments for loans.
“There’s bound to be a better way to collect on a student loan debt that is so old,” Green said.
Unlike other forms of debt, student loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy by law. They also have higher interest rates, due to being riskier to the lender because of a lack of collateral. Governments and collection agencies are also allowed to use tactics that are prohibited for other types of loans, such as seizing tax refunds, taking parts of disability payments or even garnishing wages — all without a court order.
Student loans have become a hot-button issue in the Democratic presidential primaries. Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have railed against what they call excessive student debt, vowing to lower student loan interest rates. However, Sanders goes a step further by supporting tuition-free public universities that are fully paid for with a tax on Wall Street.
Almost 71 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients graduate with a student loan, and those graduating in 2015 have an average debt from school of over $35,000, according to The Wall Street Journal.
HOUSTON (February 15, 2016) — Believe it or not, the US Marshals Service in Houston is arresting people for not paying their outstanding federal student loans.
Paul Aker says he was arrested at his home last week for a $1,500 federal student loan he received in 1987. He says seven deputy US Marshals showed up at his home with guns and took him to federal court where he had to sign a payment plan for the 29-year-old school loan.
Congressman Gene Green says the federal government is now using private debt collectors to go after those who owe student loans. Green says as a result, those attorneys and debt collectors are getting judgments in federal court and asking judges to use the US Marshals Service to arrest those who have failed to pay their federal student loans.
Our reliable source with the US Marshal in Houston say Aker isn’t the first and won’t be the last. They have to serve anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 warrants to people who have failed to pay their federal student loans.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(February 25, 2016) — The United States has the largest prison population and the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. Children lose the most in this trend with more than 2.7 million children in the US having an incarcerated parent.
1,000,000 women, mostly mothers are behind bars in the United States.  Two-thirds of the women in federal prisons are serving time for challenges related to nonviolent drug abuse. They need treatment and counseling, not incarceration.
Our justice system is failing families, hurting our economy and in need of some serious reforms. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world, which is nothing to brag about. 
In fact, we are living in a time when more than 2.7 million children in the US have an incarcerated parent and approximately 10 million children have experienced parental incarceration at some point in their lives. 
Harsh sentencing practices have done more harm than good. Strict penalties designed to combat the distribution of illegal drugs have done little to stem the drug trade; instead the result has been a massive sweeping of people experiencing challenges related to drug addiction into an ever-expanding criminal justice system that directly fractures families and hurts our economies.
Overall, the United States has the largest prison population and the highest incarceration rate in the entire world.  Children and families lose the most in this trend with more than 2.7 million children in the US having an incarcerated parent. That is 1 in 28 children.  Women are the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population. 
This excessive incarceration is harming our nation, our economy and our families while for-profit prison corporations earn billions of dollars. 
Furthermore, mandatory minimums have been used against people from communities of color at a staggeringly disproportionate rate: Over the past several years, the US Sentencing Commission has reported that about seventy percent of mandatory minimums are imposed on African American and Latino individuals. 
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is one step in the right direction and will enact much needed changes to our justice system. By reducing lengthy prison sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenses and providing those currently incarcerated with the opportunity to petition the court for a reduction in their sentence.
ACTION:Tell the Senate to act now! The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act doesn’t fix everything, but it is a step in the process of reducing America’s alarming incarceration rate.
We know that no ONE piece of legislation can solve all of the problems, but the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act has some positive measures. The bill includes reforming the “three strikes” penalty that mandated life sentences for certain individuals by reducing it to a term of 25 years. A similar provision that mandated 20-year sentences for certain individuals has been reduced to 15.
Judges are given more discretion to sentence below prescribed mandatory minimums by the expansion of the existing “safety valve” and the creation of a new authority for judges to depart from certain mandatory minimums.
These measures work toward ensuring that strict mandatory minimums are not imposed on individuals who have little or no criminal history and whose alleged conduct was not the sort envisioned by these strict penalties.
However, we are concerned about some provisions in the bill that would add new mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes. Our country would be better served not by including this provision, but by making investments to strengthen community health and prevent crime. There is a lot of good in this bill and your voice is needed to help move it forward!
Not only are many mandatory minimums reduced, there are excellent provisions in this bill that provide for the expansion of pre-release and reentry programming. These programs will assist incarcerated persons as they prepare for life after release and will help lower the chances that they will reoffend.
America should be a nation of second chances. With this bill, individuals who had no hope of ever leaving prison will be given release dates and can look forward to returning home to their families and contributing to their communities.
Provisions of this bill also provide for the expansion of pre-release and reentry programming. These programs will assist incarcerated persons as they prepare for life after release and will help lower the chances that they will reoffend.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a much needed first step to creating a fairer criminal justice system,but we have a long way to go! Join us for the long haul by making it a launching pad for other necessary reforms in the future.
Louisiana is the world’s prison capital. The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its US counterparts. First among Americans means first in the world.
— Cindy Chang, The Times-Picayune, May 13, 2012
The state of Louisiana is often called out for having the highest incarceration rate in the world. But in the global context, how far behind are the other 49 states, really? This report finds that the disturbing answer is “Not very far.”
Around the globe, governments respond to illegal activity and social unrest in many ways. Here in the United States, policymakers in the 1970s made the decision to start incarcerating Americans at globally unprecedented rates. The decades that followed have revealed that the growth in the US prison population can be more closely attributed to ideological policy choices than actual crime rates.
The record also shows that our country’s experiment with mass incarceation has not managed to significantly enhance public safety, but instead has consistently and disproportionately stunted the social and economic wellbeing of poor communities and communities of color for generations.
In the above graphic, we charted the comparative incarceration rates of every US state alongside the world’s nations. While there are certainly important differences between how US states handle incarceration, placing each state in a global context reveals that incarceration policy in every region of this country is out of step with the rest of the world.
The US incarcerates 716 people for every 100,000 residents, more than any other country. In fact, our rate of incarceration is more than five times higher than most of the countries in the world. Although our level of crime is comparable to those of other stable, internally secure, industrialized nations, the United States has an incarceration rate far higher than any other country.
Nearly all of the countries with relatively high incarceration rates share the experience of recent large-scale internal conflict. But the United States, which has enjoyed a long history of political stability and hasn’t had a civil war in nearly a century and a half, tops the list.
If we compare the incarceration rates of individual US states and territories with that of other nations, for example, we see that 36 states and the District of Columbia have incarceration rates higher than that of Cuba, which is the nation with the second highest incarceration rate in the world.
New Jersey and New York follow just after Cuba. Although New York has been actively working on reducing its prison population, it’s still tied with Rwanda, which has the third highest national incarceration rate.
Rwanda incarcerates so many people (492 per 100,000) because thousands are sentenced or awaiting trial in connection with the 1994 genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people.
Next comes the state of Washington, which claims the same incarceration rate as the Russian Federation. (In the wake of collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia used to rival the United States for the highest incarceration rate in the world.
An epidemic of tuberculosis in the overcrowded prisons, however, encouraged the Russian government to launch a major amnesty in 1999 that significantly lowered that country’s incarceration rate.)
Utah, Nebraska and Iowa all lock up a greater portion of their populations than El Salvador, a country with a recent civil war and one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
Five of the US states with the lowest incarceration rates — Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Dakota, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island — have higher incarceration rates than countries that have experienced major 20th century social traumas, including several former Soviet republics and South Africa.
The two US states that incarcerate the least are Maine and Vermont, but even those two states incarcerate far more than the United State’s closest allies. The other NATO nations, for example, are concentrated in the lower half of this list. These nations incarcerate their own citizens at a rate five to ten times lower than the United States does:
These data reveal that even the US states that incarcerate the smallest portion of their own citizens are out of step with the larger community of nations.
As US states continue to reevaluate their own hefty reliance on incarceration, we recommend that they look to the broader global context for evidence that incarceration need not be the default response to larger social problems.
US State data: The Bureau of Justice Statistics has not published state-level estimates of the US jail population — which makes up 30% of the total mass incarceration pie — since 2006. To fill this gap, we used US Census 2010 data that shows the total number of people in each state who are confined in local, state, and federal adult correctional facilities.
This powerful census dataset comes with one quirk worth discussing: the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as if they were residents of prison locations rather than their home communities.
In the case of state prison systems that send a large number of people to prisons in other states, or in the context of federal prisons, this Census Bureau residence determination can influence a state’s incarceration rate calculated with that data.
But given the sheer size of the federal prison system alone — larger than the total prison population of every nation on the planet except for seven (China, Russian Federation, Brazil, India, Thailand, Mexico, and Iran) — it wouldn’t be appropriate to exclude this population from our data.
And while it is the federal government, rather than individual states, that determines how federal criminal laws are written and enforced, state politics certainly influence whether and where federal prisons are built.
This report and graphic draws incarceration rates for individual nations from the World Prison Population List, 10th edition, (2013) prepared by Roy Walmsley at the International Centre for Prison Studies (available at: http://www.prisonstudies.org/resources/downloads/wppl_10.pdf).
To make the comparisons more meaningful, we’ve chosen to only include nations with a total population of at least 500,000 people. The United Kingdom figure in the graph about incarceration rates among NATO founding members is calculated from the incarceration rates reported by Roy Walmsley’s World Prison Population List for the individual nations of England & Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
This report was a collaboration between Peter Wagner, Executive Director at the Prison Policy Initiative, Leah Sakala, Senior Policy Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative, and Josh Begley.
Earlier collaborations have included an infographic about whether the states that bar the most people from the polls should in fact be picking the next president and Prison Map, a website exploring the geography of incarceration.
1. Cindy Chang, “Louisiana is the world’s prison capital,” The Times-Picayune, May 13, 2012. Accessed January 29, 2014 from: http://www.nola.com/crime/louisiana_is_the_worlds_prison.html.
2. For an in-depth discussion of the limited relationship between crime rates and incarceration rates, see The Crime Drop in America, Alfred Blumstein and Joel Wallman, eds. (New York: Cambridge University Press), 2000.
3. See, eg. Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment, Marc Mauer and Meda Chesney-Lind, eds. (New York: The New Press, 2002); Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect of Economic Mobility, (D.C.: Pew Charitable Trusts), 2010. Accessed January 29, 2014 from: http://www.pewstates.org/2010/Collateral_Costs.pdf.
4. To make the comparisions more meaningful, we’ve chosen to only include nations with a total population of at least 500,000 people.
5. Jan van Dijk, John van Kesteren, Paul Smith, Criminal Victimisation in International Perspective: Key findings from the 2004-2005 ICVS and EU ICS (The Hague: Book Juridische uitgevers), 2007. Accessed January 29, 2014 from: http://www.unicri.it/services/publications/ICVS2004_05report.pdf See especially Chapter 2.
6. Genocide statistic from United Human Rights Council, “Genocide in Rwanda” webpage. Acccessed on January 29, 2014 from: http://www.unitedhumanrights.org/genocide/rwanda.htm.
7. See BBC News, Amnesty for Russian prisoners, May 26, 2000 and see ITAR-TASS Russian MPs to consider amnesty bill in final reading, December 13, 2013 for the fact that there have been 18 successive amnesties in recent Russian history. (Accessed on June 10, 2014.)
8. World Bank, “Intentional homicides (per 100,000 people)” webpage. Accessed June 10, 2014 from: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/VC.IHR.PSRC.P5?order=data_value-last&sort=asc
9. Roy Walmsley’s World Prison Population List (see methodology) provides incarceration rates for the individual nations of England & Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Because the multi-country United Kingdom is a NATO member, we aggregated Walmsely’s figures for the prison and national populatons for each member country to calculate the United Kingdom-wide figure for this comparison.
10. Iceland is a founding member of NATO but is excluded from this report, along with all other nations that have a total population of under 500,000 people. For the record, however, Iceland’s incarceration rate is 47 per 100,000, lower than even Norway’s.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Nuclear Power in the Future:
Risks of a Lifetime David Lochbaum / The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
(February 24, 2016) — Following the March 1979 reactor core meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) established a safety policy that sought to limit the chance of another meltdown to no more than once every 10,000 years of reactor operation — reasonably remote odds for a reactor licensed to operate for 40 years.
But since that safety goal was established, the NRC has extended the operating licenses of more than three quarters of the US fleet of 100 reactors by 20 years and is contemplating extending the licenses for an additional 20 years. The new license process, called Subsequent License Renewal, would extend operations from 60 years to 80 years.
Although some reactors in unregulated markets have retired early because they can’t compete economically with cheap natural gas, reactors in regulated markets face a very different set of economic circumstances and may be kept in service well past their originally planned retirement dates.
The chance of one reactor experiencing a meltdown among a fleet of 100 reactors operating within the NRC’s safety goal for 40 years is nearly one in three (32.97 percent), or slightly higher than the risk from taking two turns on a six-chamber revolver during Russian roulette.
The chance of a meltdown from that fleet operating for 60 years rises to 45.12 percent, or slightly higher than taking three Russian roulette turns. And the meltdown risk from the fleet operating for 80 years is 55.07 percent, or roughly the risk from taking four and one-half Russian roulette turns.
Time is a risk factor being ignored by the NRC. The agency’s safety goal put the risk of meltdown at one-in-three for the 100 reactors licensed for 40 years. When the NRC began renewing licenses for 20 and perhaps now 40 additional years, the agency did not revisit its safety goal and seems tolerant of the meltdown risk rising to one-in-two or greater.
This is a failure to recognize that aging takes a significant safety toll on nuclear reactors — not just because parts wear out over time, but also because refurbishment and replacement sometimes have unanticipated consequences.
The Bathtub Curve
The NRC’s safety goal is a constant number for all reactors at every point during their operation. In reality, the risk over a reactor’s lifetime varies by what is called the bathtub curve due to its shape.
A reactor begins operating with relatively high risk due to material imperfections, assembly errors, worker mistakes, and other break-in problems. The risk levels off during mid-life and then rises late in life due to age-related degradation.
The US fleet of reactors is heading toward, if not already in, the wear-out portion of the bathtub curve where risk increases. In addition, the five new reactors (Watts Bar Unit 2, Vogtle Units 3 and 4, and Summer Units 2 and 3) about to join the fleet cannot skip forward to the middle-age period of relatively low risk — they must navigate through the high-risk break-in phase.
Power companies deciding whether to extend the lifetimes of their existing nuclear reactors or to replace them with new reactors confront the reality of the bathtub curve. Recent examples illustrate that well-intended decisions can go awry:
Crystal River 3
In December 2008, the owner of Crystal River 3 in Florida applied to the NRC for a 20-year extension to the reactor’s operating license. In fall 2009, the reactor shut down for a planned refueling outage.
The tasks scheduled during this outage included replacing the steam generators. The original components were wearing out, evidenced by plugged tubes. The replacement steam generators would restore safety margins, supporting the reactor’s operation throughout the renewed license period.
That was the intention. The reality was that cutting through the concrete containment structure’s wall to get the old steam generators out, and to install the new ones, damaged the concrete. Initial efforts to repair the damage failed, and the cost of fixing the damage was too high to justify. The owner opted to permanently shut down the reactor, and withdrew its license renewal application.
The owners of the San Onofre Units 2 and 3 reactors in southern California also elected to replace the original steam generators to restore safety margins during the remainder of their 40-year licenses and to support license renewal should the company decide to pursue that option.
The steam generators were successfully replaced, and both reactors returned to service, but not for long. On January 31, 2012, workers shut down the Unit 3 reactor after one of the tubes inside a replacement steam generator broke. The Unit 2 reactor was already shut down so that workers could inspect for, and plug, damaged tubes inside its replacement steam generators.
The replacement steam generators had design and manufacturing problems that caused their tubes to wear out much more rapidly than expected. In other words, the replacement steam generators experienced break-in failures — lots of them.
The owner opted to permanently shut down the reactors rather than incur the cost of fixing the flawed steam generators or replacing the replacements.
The Fort Calhoun reactor in Nebraska began operating in 1973. The NRC renewed its 40-year operating license for an additional 20 years in November 2003 after determining that aging-management programs were in place to sustain safety margins over the longer period.
Consistent with those programs, workers replaced parts of valves during the spring 2015 refueling outage. The rubber parts were vulnerable to radiation-induced damage, so workers installed replacement parts less vulnerable to radiation exposure.
Within hours of the reactor’s startup after the refueling outage, however, the refurbished valves failed to move. The replacement parts had degraded as a result of the high temperatures they encountered during reactor operation, essentially gluing the valves in place.
The bathtub curve had claimed another victim. Workers had replaced parts within the valves because the original parts were susceptible to an aging mechanism that hastened their entry into the wear-out zone.
Their efforts to avoid component failure were defeated when the replacement parts were even more susceptible to another degradation problem, preventing the rebuilt valves from getting out of the break-in phase.
Browns Ferry Unit 1
Recent decisions about whether to continue operating 1970s-vintage reactors rather than replacing them with 21st century designs strongly suggest that claims made in slick marketing brochures about safe, economical, reliable reactors are being viewed with healthy skepticism in corporate boardrooms. The Browns Ferry Unit 1 is a good example of an aging reactor winning out over new construction.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) shut down all three reactors at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in March 1985 due to numerous safety issues. TVA restarted the Unit 2 and 3 reactors after years of repairs, but decided not to restart Unit 1.
Two decades later, faced with restarting Unit 1 or building new reactors at its partially constructed Bellefonte nuclear plant, which is also in northern Alabama, the TVA Board authorized nearly $2 billion to restart the 43-year-old reactor. Unit 1 restarted in 2007. TVA recently cancelled plans to construct and operate new reactors at Bellefonte, and might sell the site.
Watts Bar Unit 2
TVA began constructing two reactors at the Watts Bar plant in Tennessee in the 1970s. Delays prevented the Unit 1 reactor from going into service until 1996. TVA halted construction on Unit 2 for many years but finally authorized more than $4 billion to resume and complete construction. Unit 2 is slated to begin operating in mid-2016.
The economic counterpart to the safety bathtub curve likely factored into TVA’s decision to invest in old reactors rather than in new ones. Browns Ferry Unit 1 and Watts Bar Unit 2 are virtually identical to other reactors operated by TVA.
Therefore, TVA’s leaders could place greater certainty in what they would get for their investment in old technology than what they might get from an equal, or larger, investment in 21st century reactors.
None of the five reactors currently under construction in the United States has yet split its first atom. Thus, no evidence exists to indicate whether the new reactor designs have successfully incorporated lessons learned from the past so as to reduce the height and width of the break-in portion of the bathtub curve, or whether surprises yet to be revealed will keep the break-in curve at the existing level or even higher.
The significant schedule delays and large cost over-runs for reactors under construction in Georgia, South Carolina, Finland, and France illustrate the economic risks of building new, untried reactors.
Nuclear Power in the Future
On paper, nuclear reactors pose no risks. But when they move from blueprints to backyards, they pose very real safety and economic risks that must be managed; otherwise, safety levels drop and costs rise unnecessarily.
Many new and existing US reactors are operating in the high-risk break-in and wear-out portions of the bathtub curve. The nuclear industry and its regulator must be aggressively vigilant to keep the factors responsible for these higher risks in check as much as possible.
In theory, refurbishing or replacing parts can safely extend the lives of nuclear reactors well beyond their originally envisioned life spans — perhaps even doubling longevity to 80 years. But in practice, refurbishment and replacement may merely swap wear-out failures for break-in failures.
The nuclear industry and its regulator must devote more resources to this issue, especially as aging US nuclear reactors require more and more upkeep. To balance the risks of operating reactors for 60 years or longer, the NRC’s license renewal process must include substantive risk-reduction measures.
A nuclear safety engineer, David Lochbaum is one of the nation’s top independent experts on nuclear power. He joined the staff of the Union of Concerned Scientists in 1996 and directs the organization’s Nuclear Safety Project.
He monitors safety issues at US nuclear power plants, raises concerns with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and responds to breaking events such as the 2011 nuclear reactor crisis in Japan. His expertise is in nuclear power plant design, nuclear regulatory oversight, and nuclear waste issues. Lochbaum worked in nuclear power plants for 17 years.
Note: David Lochbaum prepared this article on his own time, and it may not represent the views of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
UN Security Council Condemns
North Korean Long-range Missile Launch Gregg Zoroya / USA Today
(February 8, 2016) — The United Nations Security Council on Sunday unanimously condemned North Korea’s launch of a long-range missile as a violation of UN resolutions banning ballistic missile tests and promised “significant” new sanctions. . . .
North Korean state television said in a special broadcast Sunday that it had placed an observation satellite into orbit.
US Pacific Command in Hawaii said it had “detected and tracked today what we assess was a North Korean missile,” and at no time did it pose a threat to the United States or its allies.
US Flexes Muscle, Tests ICBM off California Coast FoxNews.com
(February 27, 2016) — An unarmed Minuteman 3 nuclear missile was shot into the California night sky Thursday amid tensions with North Korea and Russia.
The missile was fired at 11:01 p.m. off the California coastline and was carrying a payload of test instruments. It was aimed toward the waters of the Kwajalein Atoll, an island chain about 2,500 miles southwest of Honolulu.
This was the second missile test the Air Force conducted this month in a series designed to confirm the reliability of the Cold War-era missile and all its components. . . .
“It is a signal to anyone who has nuclear weapons that we are prepared to use nuclear weapons in defense of our country, if necessary,” [a government spokesperson] said, adding later, “We do it to demonstrate that these missiles â€”- even though they’re old — they still remain the most effective, or one of the most effective, missiles in the world.”
A Remarkable Double Standard John Hallam / Nuclear News
(February 25, 2016) â€“ A short commentary on Washington’s double standards when it comes to launching long-range missiles:
THEIR space-launch is evil and a cover for ICBM development. Damn the technical details — if they don’t support that.
OUR ICBM launch (doesn’t pretend to be anything but an ICBM launch) is virtuous, safe, stabilizing and praiseworthy.
“Do as we say not as we do — or we’ll incinerate you.”
Not sure what came over me, but surely two in one week is over the top? Words are failing me.
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (February 25, 2016) — The US military plans to test-fire its second intercontinental ballistic missile in a week overnight on Thursday to demonstrate the reliability of American nuclear arms at a time of rising strategic tensions with countries like Russia and North Korea.
The unarmed Minuteman III missile will blast off from a silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California late on Thursday or early on Friday, headed toward a target area near Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands of the South Pacific.
Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said the tests, conducted at least 15 times since January 2011, send a message to strategic competitors like Russia, China and North Korea that the United States has an effective nuclear arsenal.
“That’s exactly why we do this,” Work told reporters. “We and the Russians and the Chinese routinely do test shots to prove that the operational missiles that we have are reliable. And that is a signal … that we are prepared to use nuclear weapons in defense of our country if necessary,” he added.
Demonstrating the reliability of the nuclear force has taken on additional importance recently because the aging US arsenal is near the end of its useful life and a spate of scandals in the nuclear force two years ago raised readiness questions.
The Defense Department has poured millions of dollars into improving conditions for troops responsible for staffing and maintaining the nuclear systems. The administration also is putting more focus on upgrading the weapons.
President Barack Obama’s final defense budget unveiled this month calls for a $1.8 billion hike in nuclear arms spending to overhaul the country’s aging nuclear bombers, missiles, submarines and other systems.
The president’s $19 billion request would allow the Pentagon and Energy Department to move toward a multiyear overhaul of the atomic arms infrastructure that is expected to cost $320 billion over a decade and up to a trillion dollars over 30 years.
The nuclear spending boost is an ironic turn for a president who made reducing US dependence on atomic weapons a centerpiece of his agenda during his first years in office.
Obama called for a world eventually free of nuclear arms in a speech in Prague and later reached a new strategic weapons treaty with Russia. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in part based on his stance on reducing atomic arms.
“He was going to de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons in US
national security policy … but in fact in the last few years he has emphasized new spending,” said John Isaacs of the Council for a Livable World, an arms control advocacy group.
Critics say the Pentagon’s plans are unaffordable and unnecessary because it intends to build a force capable of deploying the 1,550 warheads permitted under the New START treaty. But Obama has said the country could further reduce its deployed warheads by a third and still remain secure.
Hans Kristensen, an analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, said the Pentagon’s costly “all-of-the-above” effort to rebuild all its nuclear systems was a “train wreck that everybody can see is coming.” Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association, said the plans were “divorced from reality.”
The Pentagon could save billions by building a more modest force that would delay the new long-range bomber, cancel the new air launched cruise missile and construct fewer ballistic submarines, arms control advocates said.
Work said the Pentagon understood the financial problem. It would need
$18 billion a year between 2021 and 2035 for nuclear modernization, which is coming at the same time as a huge “bow wave” of spending on conventional ships and aircraft, he said.
“If it becomes clear that it’s too expensive, then it’s going to be up to our national leaders to debate” the issue, Work said, something that could take place during the next administration when spending pressures can no longer be ignored.
ACTION ALERT: US ICBM Launch “Acting Strategically”! Alice Slater / Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
We need a missile/space ban treaty now! If, for whatever incomprehensible reason, you’re not working all out right now to get negotiations started on the ban treaty, then please start calling for a new treaty to ban missiles and weapons in space.
Actually China and Russia have tabled a model treaty to ban space weapons since 2008, which they updated and reintroduced in 2015, but the US actually blocks any discussion of it in the consensus-bound Committee on Disarmament in Geneva.
That’s why we need an Ottawa process for the ban treaty now — to get things moving. And we also need a model treaty by scientists, experts, lawyers, policymakers for a missile/space ban just like we did the Model Nuclear Weapons Convention which is now a UN document and is widely discussed.
It’s a real dead-end to be pushing now for ratification of the CTBT which isn’t comprehensive and doesn’t ban tests (The US has exploded 28 “subcritical” nuclear tests at the Nevada test site since it signed the treaty in 1992, not to mention laboratory nuclear tests and the recent test of a dummy nuclear bunker buster warhead) or a fissile-materials cut-off treaty for weapons purposes only, which won’t cut off fissile materials with the proliferation of “peaceful” nuclear bomb factories — now to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirate and Turkey for the first time–alas!!.
We really need to move on the ban treaty as well as for new initiatives for a missile/space ban treaty while issuing a clarion call to disband NATO. Otherwise, the peace movement is just spinning its wheels.
It’s the only way we’ll get Russia and China to negotiate with us on a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons, which so many of you say you really want. What good strategic steps are you taking to get it — other than just pounding on the table saying “Treaty, treaty now”?
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Guatemala: Soldiers Sentenced to 240 Years for Systematic Rape TeleSUR
(February 26, 2016) — The Sepur Zarco case is the first wartime sexual abuse case prosecuted in Guatemala, and the first of sexual and domestic slavery tried in a national court.
Two former Guatemalan soldiers have been sentenced to 120 and 240 years in prison after they were found guilty of raping women in the Sepur Zarco military base in the 1980s as part of a military strategy.
Coronel Esteelmer Reyes Giron and former soldier Valdez Asig were found guilty of crimes against humanity, including the enforced disappearance of seven men, and the systematic rape and enslavement of 11 women in the historic case.
This is the first case of wartime sexual abuse prosecuted in Guatemala, as well the first case of sexual and domestic slavery tried in a national court.
To a packed courtroom, including the UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, Judge Jazmin Barrios said that she had found the testimonies of the women to be “completely credible.”
“We find the treatment of the women of Sepur Zarco to have been completely humiliating and degrading,” she said.
She rejected the idea that sexual violence in the military base was to satisfy the sexual desires of the soldiers, but was a weapon of war. “There was a strategic design to pulverize the social fabric and to prevent its reproductive,” she said.
The judge found that there were various consistencies in the testimonies of the women: that the women were not widows but that their husbands had been “disappeared,” and that the soldiers then begun to systematically rape them.
Jo-Marie Burt, a trial observer with The Washington Office on Latin America, told teleSUR that the ruling was an extremely important moment for Guatemalan justice.
“The world was watching to see if in fact Guatemala could accomplish this incredible precedent, not only that it could prosecute sexual violence, but also the crime of sexual slavery internationally,” she said. “(The ruling) is acknowledging the consequences of Guatemala’s internal conflict, addressing sexual violence and slavery, as well as homicide and enforced disappearances.”
During the ruling, Judge Barrios made reference to Dominga Coc, who was raped daily and then murdered alongside her two small daughters by a riverside.
The two accused were each handed 30 years in prison for crimes against humanity, and then 30 years for each of the seven cases of forced disappearance.
“It was a very strong statement,” said Burt. “They were such strong sentences because these crimes are so heinous, so contrary to the norms of war, and to norms of humanity.”
Guatemala has struggled for years with impunity for those in charge who inflicted such violence in the Central American country’s civil war. Burt warned that despite the success of the Sepur Zarco case, impunity was still present.
“What’s important to note however is that the defendants are mid-ranking military officers, so it’s significant but they’re not the head honchos, not the big fish,” she added.
The historic trial, which began February 1 this year, sought to prove that 11 women were victims of sexual abuse and domestic slavery in the Sepur Zarco military base, between 1982 and 1986.
The Indigenous Q’eqchi’ women were held captive as domestic slaves after their husbands were disappeared and murdered by the military.
‘Available Meat:’ Rape Used
As Weapon of War in Guatemala TeleSUR
(February 18, 2016) — The landmark Guatemalan case seeks to prove that the systematic rape of 11 women at the Sepur Zarco military base was a war crime. Rape and sexual violence were used as weapons of war in Guatemala, two expert witnesses in the Sepur Zarco sex slavery trial said Thursday.
The case, now in its third week, seeks to prove that the systematic rape of 11 women at the Sepur Zarco military base in the 1980s was a war crime. The indigenous Q’eqchi’ women were held captive as domestic slaves after their husbands were disappeared and murdered by the military.
Gender specialist Dr. Rita Laura Segato told the court: “Rape is not ‘collateral damage’ in war; rape is used strategically, it is a weapon of war.”
Paloma Soria, a lawyer who specializes in issues surrounding gender, said the state must hold accountable those responsible for the crimes. “The Guatemalan state has the obligation of investigating, judging and punishing gender crimes,” she said.
Jo-Marie Burt, a trial observer with The Washington Office on Latin America, told teleSUR that it is important to understand that rape is not just a “byproduct of war . . . because boys will be boys.”
“It’s a message. It’s a way to humiliate, not just the women, but their husbands and their community. It’s a way to say you are powerless against us. It’s a way of saying we control you, and because we control you we control what happens in this community. And that’s what happened in Sepur Zarco,” she said.
According to Burt, the women suffered profound isolation after the systematic rapes and entire communities were fragmented. “One witness said they were called ‘available meat,'” Burt added.
Earlier in the trial, witness Julia Coc revealed that fellow victim Dominga Choc was forced to dig a grave where she and the bodies of her daughters Herlinda and Anita were buried.
“She had to dig her grave and (the soldiers) killed her even though she just finished washing their clothes,” said Coc.
Coc also described the murder of her own daughter and grandchildren, who were the only three deaths documented as part of the crimes committed by the army in the Sepur Zarco military base and the surrounding area in the 1980s.
Coc also confirmed that Dominga was taken with her two children to wash clothes at the Rojquipur River and was sexually abused before being killed.
“They told her to wash herself because they were going to set her free, but it was actually to rape her,” Coc told the court. She added that her own daughter and granddaughters were constantly unwell due to the continual sexual abuse.
When the remains of her family were exhumed, the bones and clothes of her daughter were found, but in the case of her granddaughters their bones “were already dust” and all that was left were their underwear, she concluded.
Throughout the trial, the witnesses have worn scarves over their heads to hide their faces. According to Burt, this is because of the “social stigma” they could face from their traditional rural communities.
But there are also safety concerns. Protesters have gathered outside the courtroom opposing the trial, “yelling through a bullhorn that the victims are liars, and the people prosecuting are terrorists,” Burt explained.
The historic trial, which began Feb. 1 this year, seeks to prove that 11 women were victims of sexual abuse and domestic slavery in the Sepur Zarco military base, between 1982 and 1986. It considers the acts committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Standing accused are Coronel Esteelmer Francisco Reyes Giron and former soldier Heriberto Valdez Asij, who have been in prison for the last 20 years.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
US Payments Not Compensation for Lost Lives Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(February 26, 2016) — Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has issued a statement in Afghanistan criticizing the US for its “sorry money” payments to the victims of American attacks on an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan late last year, saying the payments were ridiculous and not compensatory for the loss of lives.
The US had previously had a precedent of paying $50,000 “blood money” each when US forced killed Afghan civilians during the occupation, but the victims of the MSF attack were given $6,000 and told it was a “condolence payment,” not the typical blood money. The Pentagon has also suggested some sort of compensation for all the employees at the hospital, whether they were wounded or not.
For some reason, Pentagon officials are keen to make a distinction between their previous “blood money” payments and those for the MSF hospital, which they insist are smaller because they’re just meant to help cover funeral costs, not as a formal blood money compensation.
The US has struggled to explain the attack on the hospital, offering several conflicting excuses on how the strike happened, and finally settling on the idea that it was a “mistake” that shouldn’t have happened. President Obama has blocked MSF calls for an international investigation.
WASHINGTON (February 26, 2016) — The US military is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to wounded survivors and relatives of 42 people killed when an American AC-130 gunship attacked a charity hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, but the charity group Doctors Without Borders says the US “sorry money” is not enough to compensate for the loss of life.
The military is paying $6,000 for each person killed, and the wounded receive $3,000 each, representatives of the victims of the Oct. 3 bombing told The Associated Press.
US forces in Afghanistan have “expressed their condolences and offered condolence payment to more than 140 families and individuals,” Army Col. Mike Lawhorn, spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan told AP. All 460 staff working at the hospital at the time of the attack are expected to receive some type of compensation.
He told AP that his group has discussed the “sorry money” with the US military and called the amount of payments “ridiculous,” arguing that many families had lost their sole breadwinner and the funds would not be enough to support them.
“These amounts are absolutely not compensation for loss of life,” he said.
The US has paid blood money up to $50,000 per death in some incidents, including the multiple killing of Afghan civilians by a US soldier in 2013.
The condolence payments in the hospital bombing case, however, are not seen as blood money or damage payments, but rather condolence payments to help cover basic costs such as funerals.
President Obama has apologized for the attack which the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell, called a mistake.
A joint US-NATO assessment, obtained by the AP, says the AC-130 gunship fired 211 shells at the compound for a half-hour before commanders realized the mistake and halted fire.
Military officials had initially claimed the hospital was overrun by Taliban fighters, but according to the report, US forces has meant to strike another building a few hundred yards away from the hospital.
A parallel investigation by the US military produced a 3,000-page report that officials say will be made public after it has been redacted. They have not given a firm date for its release.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.