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Is Trump Yet Another US President Provoking a War?

May 15th, 2019 - by Robin Wright /The New Yorker

(Image: Waging Peace)

(May 14, 2019) — The United States has a long history of provoking, instigating, or launching wars based on dubious, flimsy, or manufactured threats. In 1986, the Reagan Administration plotted to use US military maneuvers off Libya’s coast to provoke Muammar Qaddafi into a showdown.

The planning for Operation Prairie Fire, which deployed three aircraft carriers and thirty other warships, was months in the making. Before the Navy’s arrival, US warplanes conducted missions skirting Libyan shore and air defenses—“poking them in the ribs” to “keep them on edge,” a US military source told the Los Angeles Times that year. One official involved in the mission explained, “It was provocation, if you want to use that word. While everything we did was perfectly legitimate, we were not going to pass up the opportunity to strike.”

Qaddafi took the bait. Libya fired at least six surface-to-air missiles at US planes. Citing the “aggressive and unlawful nature of Colonel Qaddafi’s regime,” the US responded by opening fire at a Libyan patrol boat. “The ship is dead in the water, burning, and appears to be sinking. There are no official survivors,” the White House reported. In the course of two days, the US destroyed two more naval vessels and a missile site in Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown. It also put Libya on general notice. “We now consider all approaching Libyan forces to have hostile intent,” the White House said.

The most egregious case was the US invasion of Iraq, in 2003, which was based on bad intelligence that Baghdad had active weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. The repercussions are still playing out sixteen years (and more than four thousand American deaths) later.

The beginning of the Vietnam War was authorized by two now disputed incidents involving US warships in the Gulf of Tonkin. In response, Congress authorized President Johnson, in 1964, to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” The war dragged on for a decade, claiming the lives of fifty-seven thousand Americans and as many as a million Vietnamese fighters and civilians.

Remember the Maine

The pattern goes back even further. In 1898, the Spanish-American War was triggered by an explosion on the USS Maine, an American battleship docked in Havana Harbor. The Administration of President William McKinley blamed a Spanish mine or torpedo. Almost eight decades later, in 1976, the American admiral Hyman Rickover concluded that the battleship was destroyed by the spontaneous combustion of coal in a bunker next to ammunition.

In 1846, President James Polk justified the Mexican-American War by claiming that Mexico had invaded US territory, at a time when the border was not yet settled. Mexico claimed that the border was the Nueces River; the United States claimed it was the Rio Grande, about a hundred miles away.

One of the few voices that challenged Polk’s casus belli was Abraham Lincoln, then serving in Congress. Around fifteen hundred Americans died of battle injuries, and another ten thousand from illness.

Trump Escalates Attempts to Provoke Iran

Today, the question in Washington—and surely in Tehran, too—is whether President Trump is making moves that will provoke, instigate, or inadvertently drag the United States into a war with Iran. Trump’s threats began twelve days after he took office, in 2017, when his national-security adviser at the time, Michael Flynn, declared, in the White House press room, “As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.” Flynn, a former three-star general, was fired several weeks later and subsequently indicted for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia. The Administration’s campaign against Iran, though, has steadily escalated, particularly in the past two weeks.

On May 5th, a Sunday, the White House issued an unusual communiqué—from the national-security adviser, John Bolton, not the Pentagon—announcing that a battleship-carrier strike group, led by the USS Abraham Lincoln, and a bomber task force, including B-52s, were deploying off Iran’s coast. The Lincoln was headed to the Middle East anyway, but its deployment was fast-tracked, US officials told me. Bolton claimed that the Islamic Republic was engaged in “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” but did not provide specifics.

The Administration’s goal, he said, was “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.” Bolton, who was a key player behind the US war in Iraq, advocated bombing Iran before he joined the Trump White House.

Five days later, on May 10th, the Pentagon announced a second display of force: the USS Arlington and a battery of Patriot missile systems would join the Abraham Lincoln. The Arlington carries US Marines and an array of aircraft, landing craft, and weapons systems to support amphibious assault, special-operations teams, and “expeditionary warfare.” A Patriot battery defends against ballistic missiles and aircraft. Both are meant to respond to “indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against US forces and our interests,” the Pentagon said.

The Trump Administration is concerned that Iran, or its proxies, could strike US assets in the Middle East, including in the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Syria. The Iranians “have demonstrated the willingness and ability to attack our people, our interests, and our friends and allies in the confusing, complex zone just short of armed conflict,” General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, said last week, at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in Washington.

Iran’s Growing Power and Influence

Iran does, indeed, have a growing array of surrogates across the region. Lebanon’s Hezbollah—inspired, armed, and trained by Iran—is now the most powerful militia outside state control in the entire Middle East. In Syria, Tehran has mobilized Shiite allies from four countries—Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—to supplement its own forces helping President Bashar al-Assad reassert control over his fractured nation.

Tehran has reportedly shipped short-range missiles to allies by boat through the Persian Gulf and deployed kits in Syria that convert imprecise rockets into missiles with greater range, accuracy, and impact. The Islamic Republic supports several Shiite militias in Iraq under the umbrella of the country’s Popular Mobilization Forces, which emerged in 2014, with Iraqi government approval, to fight ISIS. The caliphate has fallen, but the P.M.F. remains a powerful and divisive militia in Iraq.

Despite the Trump Administration’s aggressive stance, there have been no major incidents in the Persian Gulf for almost two years, after a spate of provocative acts by Iran—thirty-six in 2016 and fourteen in 2017—against US warships, a Pentagon official told me.

The last one was on August 14, 2017, when an Iranian drone approached the USS. Nimitz as an F/A-18 was trying to land on the aircraft carrier. The drone, which was flying at night, did not have its lights on; repeated radio calls to its controlling station went unanswered. The Nimitz was in international waters, beyond the twelve-mile limit any nation can claim.

“We haven’t seen an unsafe interaction since then,” Captain Bill Urban, the spokesman for US Central Command, told me. “It has been a long time, considering how many incidents we had in 2016 and 2017.” The US still has regular interactions with Iranian ships. “It’s not unusual to have several attack craft come out and approach our ships and take pictures. But now they routinely stop at a safe distance or approach in manner that is not escalatory,” he said. “We continue to remain vigilant.”

What Is the Goal of Trump’s “Maximum Pressure” Campaign?

The US military deployments are the latest steps in the Administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign. The US designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization last month and has imposed a steady stream of sanctions on Iran’s economy, the most recent of which were imposed last week and covered industrial metals produced in Iran.

The Administration has vowed to keep increasing pressure until Iran changes its behavior—on its weapons-development programs, human-rights violations, support for militant movements, and intervention in other Middle East countries. So far, Tehran has not changed course.

“Frustration is building up in Washington, as maximum pressure has produced minimum strategic results, and the clock is ticking,” Ali Vaez, the director of the Iran program at the International Crisis Group, told me. “Some in Washington and the region would welcome, or try to provoke, a confrontation in an effort to achieve what sanctions have failed at so far—cutting Iran down to size.”

Vaez outlined two scenarios: Iran digs in, “prompting a frustrated White House to double down yet again on measures that alienate key allies and risk regional escalation,” or Iran calculates that it has little left to lose “and decides to escalate further in the nuclear realm or in the region.”

Beating the Oil Drums

Iran has made aggressive moves of its own. Last month, Tehran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world’s traded oil passes, if the Administration blocks it from exporting its own oil. Last week, President Hassan Rouhani announced that Tehran would no longer comply with two smaller provisions of the 2015 nuclear deal: exporting excess uranium and also heavy water from its nuclear program. (It might not be able to export the stockpiles anyway, since the US recently vowed to sanction any country that buys either.)

Trump withdrew from the agreement a year ago, but Iran continued to comply, according to inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency. Rouhani also issued an ultimatum to the deal’s other five signatories, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia: either help Iran sell its oil and circumvent US sanctions restrictions within sixty days or Tehran would increase its enrichment of uranium, a fuel that can be used for both peaceful nuclear energy and building the world’s deadliest weapon.

Rouhani’s announcement basically put the world on notice that Tehran would not keep to the agreement’s limits if it failed to receive its promised benefits. “We felt that the nuclear deal needs a surgery, and the painkiller pills of the last year have been ineffective,” Rouhani said, in a televised address. “This surgery is for saving the deal, not destroying it.”

The sense of foreboding is tangible, the threats from both sides are no longer rhetorical. Before the nuclear-deal negotiations began, in 2013, Washington was consumed with hyped talk of the United States or its allies bombing Iran. If the nuclear deal formally dies, talk of military confrontation may again fill both capitals—even if neither country wants it.

“Make no mistake, we’re not seeking a fight with the Iranian regime,” McKenzie, the Centcom commander, said last week. “But we do have a military force that’s designed to be agile, adaptive, and prepared to respond to a variety of contingencies in the Middle East and around the world.” The problem, as US history proves, is that the momentum of confrontation is harder to reverse with each escalatory step.

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

Military Space Gets Big Boost in Pentagon’s $750 Billion Budget Plan

May 15th, 2019 - by Sandra Erwin / Space News

(March 31, 2019) — Pentagon officials hailed the Trump administration’s plan to spend $14.1 billion on national security space programs in 2020 as a bold but necessary move to preserve and strengthen U.S. military dominance.

The nearly 20 percent increase in military space spending sought by the Trump administration comes as the White House and the Pentagon prepare to stand up a new Space Development Agency, reestablish U.S. Space Command and plead their case to Congress for establishing a new Space Force within the Department of the Air Force.

 “Future wars will be waged not just in the air, on the land or at sea but also in space and cyberspace, dramatically increasing the complexity of warfare,” David Norquist, acting deputy secretary of defense, told reporters following the rollout of the Pentagon’s budget March 12.

Norquist said budget priorities were shaped by the administration’s National Defense Strategy, which emphasizes strategic competition with China and Russia. The space investments, he said, support the military’s transition to a more resilient architecture that allows forces to operate in a contested environment.

The funding request for space is part of the president’s $750 billion proposed budget for national defense — $718 billion for the Defense Department and $32 billion for national security programs performed by the Department of Energy’s nuclear laboratories and other agencies.

The lion’s share of the space budget proposal, about $13.8 billion, is for space programs primarily overseen by the U.S. Air Force. An additional $306 million is for standing up three new organizations: U.S. Space Force, U.S. Space Command and the Space Development Agency. In total, DoD is seeking a 19.5 percent increase for space, or $2.3 billion more than the $11.8 billion Congress enacted for 2019, according to Air Force budget deputy Carolyn Gleason.

Jamie Morin, vice president of defense systems operations at the Aerospace Corp., called the $2.3 billion boost for military space proposed by the administration a “strong increase.”

But he cautioned that there are inconsistencies in how DoD reports its space budgets from year to year. “I don’t think there’s been a consistent presentation of that data in the budget rollout,” Morin told SpaceNews. A former director of the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, Morin said DoD “picks and chooses the data presentation rather than a long-term consistent way.”

Russell Rumbaugh, senior budget analyst at the Aerospace Corp., said that while certain portions of DoD’s space budget are in the public domain, those records are not comprehensive and not easily recreated or traceable over time. “Furthermore, current efforts to reorganize space are likely to result in new ways of thinking about what should comprise the defense space budget,” said Rumbaugh.

The $14.1 billion space request, like everything else in the Pentagon’s budget, is far from a fait accompli. Democrats already have rejected the proposal for shifting $165 billion of the $718 billion DoD budget into the war operations account known as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) and for setting aside $3.6 billion of military construction funds to help build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The OCO gambit allows the Trump administration to keep DoD’s base budget request at $576 billion — the limit set by the Budget Control Act — and still dramatically increase defense spending without having to cut a deal with Democrats, who would demand a matching increase for non-defense agencies. OCO is not subject to Budget Control Act spending caps Congress imposed in 2011 to resolve a debt-ceiling crisis. The Pentagon acknowledged that $98 billion of the $165 billion OCO request is for “base requirements” that support the National Defense Strategy but are not war-related.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) called Trump’s budget a “reckless” proposal that has “no chance of garnering the necessary bipartisan support to become law.” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said his committee will not support any budget with such a large OCO request.

Some Democrats have hinted they would be open to a deal that would lift Budget Control Act caps for both defense and non-defense, and would reduce national defense spending to $733 billion. Under any scenario, a protracted battle over funding priorities lies ahead. This means the DoD budget will be “up in the air again this year,” Morin said. “We’re into another year of high uncertainty.”

Space Wars coming to a sky near you. (Image: Autoevolution)

Space Budget Priorities

The space request includes $10.2 billion for space investments, a broad category that includes both research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) and procurement.

The more notable expenditures proposed for 2020 are for a new constellation of missile-warning satellites known as Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR); for the GPS 3 constellation of positioning, navigation and timing satellites; for national security launch services; and for the development of future satellite communications systems.

Next-gen OPIR

The Air Force is requesting $1.4 billion in RDT&E funds. That includes $817 million for the development of three Block 0 geosynchronous missile-warning satellites being built by Lockheed Martin under a $2.9 billion sole-source contract awarded in August, $107 for two polar-orbiting satellites to be made by Northrop Grumman under a much smaller contract, $264 million for ground systems and $205 million for studies of future parts and material obsolescence.

The Air Force projects large funding increases for next-gen OPIR over the next several years to accelerate the program: $2 billion in 2021, $2.2 billion in 2022, $2.6 billion in 2023 $3 billion in 2024.

Next-gen OPIR will replace the legacy Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellites Lockheed Martin has been building for decades. The first Block 0 GEO satellite will be fielded in 2025 and the first polar satellite by 2027. All five Block 0 satellites need to be on orbit by 2029.

The budget also seeks $233 million in procurement funds for SBIRS, to fund launch integration and early on-orbit testing for the GEO-5 and -6 satellites.

Global Positioning System

The budget includes $462 million for the development of the GPS 3 follow-on satellites, or GPS 3F, to be built by Lockheed Martin under a $7.2 billion contract awarded last year for up to 22 satellites. There is also $414 million for the procurement of the first GPS 3F in 2020. The Air Force projects spending $3.8 billion on GPS 3F through 2024. It will procure two satellites in 2021, three in 2022, three in 2023 and three in 2024.

According to the Air Force, the GPS 3F satellites provide the same services as the GPS 3 satellites that already are in production but have improved capabilities to deliver high-power Military Code (M-Code) signals.

Lockheed is currently building 10 GPS 3 satellites the Air Force initially ordered in 2008. The first GPS 3 satellite launch in December was on a SpaceX Falcon 9. The second GPS 3 is slated to launch in July on a Delta 4. The 2020 budget seeks $31 million for technical assessments of the production of vehicles 3 through 10 and their preparation for launch.

The budget also has $329 million in RDT&E funds for GPS user equipment, with an additional $400 million projected from 2021 through 2024. User equipment consists of receivers, antennas and electronics to derive navigation and time information transmitted from GPS satellites.

There is $380 million in RDT&E funds for the new ground control system for GPS 3, called OCX, plus $64 million for the integration of OCX into the GPS enterprise. Raytheon is the prime contractor. The Air Force projects to spend an additional $1.2 billion on OCX from 2021 to 2024.

Satellite Communications

The request for satellite communication funds the recapitalization of the Northrop Grumman-led Enhanced Polar Satcom system ($427 million) and for Boeing-built Family of Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals ($197 million).

The budget also seeks $174 million to accelerate the prototyping of a Protected Tactical Satellite Communications (PTS) system. The Air Force is developing a Protected Anti-jam Tactical Satellite Communications family of systems, one of which is the PTS, designed to operate in contested environments using the Protected Tactical Waveform. PTS includes a space segment, ground segment and gateway segment.

The budget includes $105 million for the PTS ground system called the Protected Tactical Enterprise Service, or PTES, being built by Boeing. Initially PTES will use the Wideband Global Satcom system and be expanded later to include commercial satellites and the PTS system.

To develop a future replacement of the Advanced Extremely High Frequency strategic satcom system, the Air Force is seeking $172 million for the Evolved Strategic Satcom program. ESS will support strategic missions such as presidential, nuclear command and control strategic communications.

National Security Space Launch

The Air Force is requesting $1.2 billion to procure four launches under the program that used to be called Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle and was renamed National Security Space Launch (NSSL) per congressional mandate. The budget also seeks $432 million for development of next-generation vehicles.

Air Force NSSL launches will be slowing down over the coming years. According to the budget projections, only one launch is planned for fiscal year 2021, two in 2022, three in 2023 and four in 2024. Projected RDT&E funding is $561 million in 2021, $287 million in 2022, $221 million in 2023 and $87 million in 2024.

The Air Force is responsible for funding its own missions. Other NSSL launches are funded by the National Reconnaissance Office and the Navy.

The RDT&E investment is for Launch Service Agreement public-private partnerships awarded last fall to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and United Launch Alliance for the development of new launch systems.

Enterprise Ground Services

The budget creates a new funding line for the Enterprise Ground Services (EGS) program, with a $138 million RDT&E request. The EGS will become the primary ground command-and-control system for Air Force space systems. Legacy ground systems over the next decade will transition to the EGS architecture. The EGS is expected to support 23 missions, including missile warning, missile defense, satellite communications, space domain awareness and other experimental satellites.

Space Development Agency

The Pentagon officially established the SDA on March 12 under the authority of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. The SDA was created to accelerate the development and fielding of new military space capabilities.

DoD is requesting $44.8 million for staffing, $20 million to develop a proliferated low Earth orbit sensor network, $85 million for space technology development and prototyping, $15 million to develop transport layer architecture and standards, $10 million for commercial procurement of space situational awareness and launch of small satellites in LEO, $30 million for LEO missile warning ground integration, $15 million for a space-based interceptors study and $15 million for a space-based discrimination assessment.


Dangerous Developments in Modern Weaponry: a forum on the military pursuit of global hegemony. New link for live streaming: https://vimeo.com/330390923. PASSWORD: spacewar

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

Nature’s Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’: Decline ‘Unprecedented’

May 15th, 2019 - by Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)

(May 4, 2019) — Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely, warns a landmark new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the summary of which was approved at the 7th session of the IPBES Plenary, meeting last week (29 April — 4 May) in Paris.

“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

“The Report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he said. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably — this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

“The member States of IPBES Plenary have now acknowledged that, by its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but also that such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good,” Watson said.

The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is the most comprehensive ever completed. It is the first intergovernmental Report of its kind and builds on the landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005, introducing innovative ways of evaluating evidence.

Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over the past three years, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors, the Report assesses changes over the past five decades, providing a comprehensive picture of the relationship between economic development pathways and their impacts on nature. It also offers a range of possible scenarios for the coming decades.

Based on the systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources, the Report also draws (for the first time ever at this scale) on indigenous and local knowledge, particularly addressing issues relevant to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point,” said Prof. Sandra Díaz (Argentina), who co-chaired the Assessment with Prof. Josef Settele (Germany) and Prof. Eduardo S. Brondízio (Brazil and USA).

“The diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems, as well as many fundamental contributions we derive from nature, are declining fast, although we still have the means to ensure a sustainable future for people and the planet.”

The Report finds that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.

The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened.

The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.

“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Prof. Settele. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

To increase the policy-relevance of the Report, the assessment’s authors have ranked, for the first time at this scale and based on a thorough analysis of the available evidence, the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far. These culprits are, in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.

The Report notes that, since 1980, greenhouse gas emissions have doubled, raising average global temperatures by at least 0.7 degrees Celsius — with climate change already impacting nature from the level of ecosystems to that of genetics — impacts expected to increase over the coming decades, in some cases surpassing the impact of land and sea use change and other drivers.

Despite progress to conserve nature and implement policies, the Report also finds that global goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors. With good progress on components of only four of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, it is likely that most will be missed by the 2020 deadline.

Current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80% (35 out of 44) of the assessed targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land (SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 13, 14 and 15). Loss of biodiversity is therefore shown to be not only an environmental issue, but also a developmental, economic, security, social and moral issue as well.

“To better understand and, more importantly, to address the main causes of damage to biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people, we need to understand the history and global interconnection of complex demographic and economic indirect drivers of change, as well as the social values that underpin them,” said Prof. Brondízio. “Key indirect drivers include increased population and per capita consumption; technological innovation, which in some cases has lowered and in other cases increased the damage to nature; and, critically, issues of governance and accountability. A pattern that emerges is one of global interconnectivity and ‘telecoupling’ — with resource extraction and production often occurring in one part of the world to satisfy the needs of distant consumers in other regions.”

Earth has lost more than half its animals since 1970.

Other Notable Findings of the Report Include:

  • Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
  • More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.
  • The value of agricultural crop production has increased by about 300% since 1970, raw timber harvest has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and non-renewable resources are now extracted globally every year — having nearly doubled since 1980.
  • Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.
  • In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% were maximally sustainably fished, with just 7% harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished.
  • Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992.
  • Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters, and fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, totaling more than 245,000 km2 (591-595) — a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom.
  • Negative trends in nature will continue to 2050 and beyond in all of the policy scenarios explored in the Report, except those that include transformative change — due to the projected impacts of increasing land-use change, exploitation of organisms and climate change, although with significant differences between regions.

The Report also presents a wide range of illustrative actions for sustainability and pathways for achieving them across and between sectors such as agriculture, forestry, marine systems, freshwater systems, urban areas, energy, finance and many others.

It highlights the importance of, among others, adopting integrated management and cross-sectoral approaches that take into account the trade-offs of food and energy production, infrastructure, freshwater and coastal management, and biodiversity conservation.

Also identified as a key element of more sustainable future policies is the evolution of global financial and economic systems to build a global sustainable economy, steering away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth.

“IPBES presents the authoritative science, knowledge and the policy options to decision-makers for their consideration,” said IPBES Executive Secretary, Dr. Anne Larigauderie.

“We thank the hundreds of experts, from around the world, who have volunteered their time and knowledge to help address the loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity — a truly global and generational threat to human well-being.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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Ellsberg on Assange: “Trump Is Challenging the First Amendment”

May 15th, 2019 - by Yorgos Boskos / OpenDemocracy
(Image: The Burning Platform)

“In my case… I was indicted on twelve charges with a possible sentence of 115 years. I would expect Julian will be facing the same.”

 (May 13, 2019) — Context: One of the most legendary characters in American political history, in 1971, as a military analyst at the Rand Corporation, Daniel Ellsberg took the brave decision to leak 7,000 pages of top-secret documents to the New York Times and the Washington Post, the so-called Pentagon Papers, exposing the lies of the US administrations about the Vietnam war.

In this interview, Ellsberg, the icon of all whistleblowers, expresses his deep concern over the possible extradition of the Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, to the United States. Ellsberg stresses that Assange’s arrest comes at an ominous time for the freedom of the press, underlining that the US government intends to punish him because he exposed the war crimes and atrocities of the United States in Iraq and embarrassed the CIA by publishing information about its illegal hacking operations.

Moreover, Daniel Ellsberg affirms that the US President, Donald Trump, is escalating his war on the press. ‘‘The indictment against Julian Assange would have a chilling effect on free speech and would be inimical to our democracy’’, Ellsberg underlines. This indictment poses great threats ‘‘not only to Wikileaks, but also to The Guardian, The New York Times and every newspaper that considers printing classified information’’, Ellsberg adds. He also believes that further charges will be brought against Julian Assange if he is extradited to the United States. With the focus of Assange’s legal team now turning to fight the US extradition request, the man behind one of the greatest revelations of the past century speaks out…

Yorgos Boskos (YB): It has been more than three weeks since Julian Assange was arrested inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He has been sentenced to 50 weeks in prison and still faces US charges. What are your thoughts?

Daniel Ellsberg (DE): It is a very ominous time for the freedom of the press. I think that Donald Trump is escalating his war on the press. First Amendment (freedom of the press and freedom of speech) has always been held to preclude indicting or prosecuting a member of the press for doing his or her job, for truth-telling and informing the public. Actually, previous presidents, starting with my prosecution under president Nixon, have used the Espionage Act against sources like myself.

My prosecution for the Pentagon Papers in 1971 was the first one of an American for giving truthful information to the public, which was a violation of the First Amendment. But Nixon used the Espionage Act – which was intended for spies – against me, who informed the American public. My trial was ended by the revelation of the government’s misconduct against me, which led to the convictions of several administration officials.

I remind you that after President Obama, two other sources were indicted. President Obama indicted and prosecuted nine people. The constitutionality of those prosecutions was never addressed by the Supreme Court, on whether the First Amendment permitted such a prosecution as the one against me. Presidents Bush and Obama both considered going further and prosecuting a member of the press directly, Julian Assange. However, the Department of Justice under Obama did not prosecute the very charges that Trump’s administration is now raising against Assange.

YB: How do you look at the indictment against Assange?

DE: The indictment against him would have a chilling effect on free speech, which would be forbidden by the First Amendment and would be inimical to democracy in the United States. Donald Trump has crossed a boundary in challenging the First Amendment, that no other president in our history has done.

We do expect further charges to be brought against Assange if the British extradite him to the United States. The first charge against Assange is obviously intended to make it easier for the British to extradite him, without being accused of violating international norms by doing so. I have no doubt that further charges will be brought against him if he is extradited. Assange faces up to five years in prison. However, I am certain that the intelligence community and the Trump administration will not be content to put Julian Assange away for just five years. In my case, they firstly brought three charges against me with a possible sentence of 35 years, but by the end of the same year I was indicted on twelve charges with a possible sentence of 115 years. I would expect Julian will be facing the same.

So, this is intended to intimidate the freedom of the press by the very indictment. However, whatever happens from here, I am afraid that will have a negative impact on press freedom, which is bad for our democracy, foreign policy, and constitutional freedoms.

YB: Do you think that this indictment poses great threats to other media organizations such as The New York Times?

DE: They have framed his first charge narrowly with the purpose of saying that what Assange has done is not a normal journalistic practice and that other media outlets are not in danger.

However, I am sure that this will be expanded, because they also mentioned other practices in connection with this – as a basis for future charges – which are normal journalistic practices, according to them. For example, using an encrypted communication system, helping a source maintain his or her confidentiality and conspiring allegedly with a source to print classified information. This would apply to the Pentagon Papers’ case, but also to the revelation of classified information that occurs almost daily.

If you use conspiracy on that, you just wipe out unauthorized disclosure. And I have long said that unauthorized disclosure is the lifeblood of a Republic and a free country. So, it does not only apply to Wikileaks, but also to Le Monde, El País, The Guardian, The New York Times and every newspaper that considers printing classified information.

YB: Does the United States have the right to extradite him from the United Kingdom?

DE: There are limitations under International Law on what charges a country can extradite people for. However, the purpose in this case is clearly political; to put behind bars someone who has published information embarrassing for past US administrations and to intimidate others from doing that. Couldn’t be more political. But the British choose not to interpret that as political. So, when you talk about ‘right’, I don’t know how things are enforced. I would say that they would certainly be condemnable, as was Ecuador, which violated his right of asylum that it had granted him. The previous president of Ecuador, who granted him asylum, Correa, is calling Moreno a traitor for having revoked Assange’s asylum.

So, your question of ‘right’ is a question that has already been addressed by the UN bodies, which have claimed that Julian’s detention at the Ecuadorian Embassy arbitrarily violates international rights. But they don’t have the power to hold Britain accountable for that, as far as I know. If the United Kingdom extradites Julian Assange to the United States, he will be charged with facilitating whistleblowing under the Espionage Act – as I was – and will have no chance of a fair trial in a US court. Whether you serve the national interest or not, you cannot get a fair trial under the Espionage Act.

YB: What is the real intention of the US government, according to you?

DE: They desperately want to punish him for exposing war crimes. The Obama administration wanted to convict him. There were members of the Congress and officials who said that Julian Assange should be hanged. At some point, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who was embarrassed by the revelations, said – whether jokingly or not – that he might be a subject of a drone attack.

I have little doubt that they would be glad if they could assassinate him and get away with it. On the first hand, they want to punish him and, secondly, make an example out of him to preclude such things in the future. I think they want to put him away for much longer than five years and they would be glad to see the death penalty applying to him. But there is a problem for the law in doing that. Firstly, he cannot be called a traitor to the United States, because he is not a US citizen. Secondly, that would be a violation of the First Amendment. But you know, president Trump couldn’t care less about the First Amendment, the Constitution, International Treaties or anything at all.

YB: Donald Trump stated repeatedly before the US election: ‘‘I love Wikileaks’’. Now, he says he knows nothing about them…

DE: Like every official and administrator. They love leaks that serve their election, agency, budget or administration. That happens all the time. Julian Assange embarrassed the CIA by publishing information about its illegal hacking operations. But this is not what he is charged with. He is actually charged – so far, they might bring more charges later – with actions he took under Obama that revealed war crimes by the United States, such as the drone operations, which I have no doubt have been continued.

Every administration from now on, in terms of its drone operations, wants as much secrecy and silence as can be achieved. They don’t want revelations like Julian’s. Apart from the period before the election, when Trump was happy to see leaks that would hurt his opponent.

YB:  A columnist of the Washington Post has recently claimed that Julian Assange is not a journalist or a Daniel Ellsberg. What’s your opinion?

DE: First of all, he is not a source, like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden or me. Julian Assange is in the same position as Bill Keller or other journalists in The New York Times who publish essential information for the public. So, I appreciate his activities very much. The fact is that Julian Assange has been smeared by the press and the administrations to a degree that has made him unpopular and polarized the public. However, he has some strong supporters. I am a strong supporter of what he did in 2010 rather than his more recent activities. I am not happy about all the judgments he has made in the last couple of years, including during the US election. Of course, he had the right to publish that information. However, I was unhappy about the effects of that information, because I think that they harmed Hillary Clinton’s chances to win the election.

I certainly wanted people in swing states to vote for Clinton. And I will make public my vote; I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. I vote for Bernie Sanders on my Californian ballot. I have great criticisms of Hilary Clinton, as do many on the left. But I didn’t agree with some on the left who claimed that Donald Trump is no worse than Hillary Clinton. I strongly disagree.

So, I don’t endorse every decision he has made. Julian Assange has been in one room for seven years. I don’t know how good my judgment would be after a confinement like that. When he was dragged out of the embassy, that was the first sunlight he saw in seven years.

But Julian Assange had the right to publish the information that harmed Clinton before the election. And it was newsworthy.

YB: Over the past years, the US administrations have accused Wikileaks of putting national security at risk. Do you agree with that?

DE: Absolutely not. Wikileaks has published information that was embarrassing for the US administrations. I agree that there are some secrets that should be kept a secret, but that’s a very small percentage. Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange were charged with having blood on their hands for the releases in 2010-2011, which I approved very much.

Not one single piece of evidence has been brought forward that Wikileaks put national security at risk. If they could show that Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden or Julian Assange had harmed any person or national security in a specific case, we would know that on the covers of our magazines or newspapers. They have not come up with anything.

Most classified information does not deserve secrecy in the national interest, apart from only a small proportion. I would say that a free press is very much in our interest and national security as well because I believe timely revelations could have prevented our aggression against Iraq and the Vietnam war. I also think that if Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden were at a higher level in 2002, we would have not invaded Iraq, which led to the deaths of almost one million civilians.

YB: Over recent decades, the US has been involved in continuous war. How have political elites in this country been able to sell the idea that ‘‘interventions’’ were actually aimed to bring stability in other regions?

DE: People can delude themselves. For instance, there are some people who justify our pressures on Venezuela. Name one example where America’s interventions have benefited the local people over the long run. There is no such an example either in Latin America or elsewhere. The American support for the Greek colonels in 1967 is one more shameful, criminal, and outrageous policy of the United States. It was a US covert operation of support for the Greek Colonels. Don’t forget that Colonel Papadopoulos had been on the CIA payroll. We supported the regime of the colonels in Greece for seven years. We supported torture in Iraq, which Chelsea Manning exposed. Those tortures were kept secret and denied. Don’t forget that the G.W. Bush administration refused even to acknowledge that there was torture and talked in terms of ridiculous euphemisms, like ‘‘enhanced interrogation’’. The torture is illegal under both domestic and international law. The former CIA agent, John Kiriakou, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for revealing covert torture. The current head of the CIA, Gina Haspel, was involved in running secret torture camps.

Is it in the American interest to torture people? That is not legitimate or necessary for American security. Our military intervention in Syria, which was supposed to benefit the Syrian people, was delusional. In the case of Syria, Hillary Clinton looked even worse than Trump. She was talking about a no-fire-zone, which would have brought us into direct armed conflict with the Russians. This shows a deplorable judgment. The American elites – Republican and Democrats – have been united in favour of America’s covert empire. I say ‘‘covert’’ because it’s based on a plausible denial of the reality, with misleading evidence of our involvement.

YB:  Looking back at the past, would you again take the enormous risk of leaking the Pentagon Papers?

DE: I have always regretted that I didn’t do it much earlier. I could have done it in 1964 instead of 1971. I regret postponing that revelation until some years later, because the Vietnam war could have been prevented.

So, I would say to other people not to do what I did, not to wait until the bombs start falling and thousands of people die. If you have the information, put it out whatever the cost might be. Don’t wait until you lose control of the documents and can only speak without documents.

As Chelsea Manning said ‘‘life imprisonment or death’’. When I heard that she had said that, I realized that was what I felt back in 1971. I hadn’t heard anybody saying that for the past 39 years. Three years later, Edward Snowden made the same judgment. Edward Snowden has said repeatedly, ‘‘Without Daniel Ellsberg, no Ed Snowden.’’

In 2012, when Snowden was considering what to do, he saw a documentary about me, ‘‘The most dangerous man in America’’. So, he knew that he would be risking 115 years in prison, just like me. That helped him to do it. Because there are truths worth dying for to reveal.


Rodion Raskolnikov  “I have little doubt that they would be glad if they could assassinate him and get away with it.”
Well, they are already doing the next best thing. The British government is allowing Assange to be interrogated by the Pentagon, CIA, and FBI. According to Karen Kwiatkowski, they are giving him “truth” drugs, including 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate, known as BZ. This drug causes delusional behavior and paranoia. The after effects can last for a very long time. This same drug has been used on prisoners at Guantanamo and all CIA torture sites. Many people have been rendered mentally incapaciated (i.e., totally insane) following the forced injection of this drug. 
It is pretty clear that the CIA, Pentagon, and FBI are hell-bent on totally destroying Assange. If they don’t kill him, they will reduce him to a raving maniac, just as they did with Khalid Sheik Mohammad. He will never be let out of any prison and he will — very likely – never be allowed to appear in any trial. Some anonymous judge somewhere will confine him to a maximum security insane asylum some where. 
Although Trump is ultimately responsible for all of this, I doubt that anyone at the Pentagon, FBI, or CIA has even told him anything about what they are doing and what their plans are. Trump learns what he knows from FOX news. The response to Assange is just way above Trump’s pay grade. 
No one can any longer doubt that the CIA, Pentagon, and FBI are criminal and psychopathic agencies.

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

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