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31.01.2018 – Paris, France Prensa Latina

This post is also available in: Spanish

French electricity company proposes to close nuclear reactors from 2029

The French electricity generation and distribution company, EDF, today proposed the closure of several nuclear power plants from 2029 onwards as part of a new long-term energy strategy.

Speaking to journalists, Philippe Sasseigne, head of the company’s nuclear division, defended the relevance of shutting down several reactors by that date, while only the closure of the Fessenhiem reactor, the first to be put into operation in this European nation in 1978, is planned for now.

According to the specialist, EDF’s suggestion – which manages the 58 plants currently in operation – is aimed at contributing to the government’s objective of reducing nuclear electricity production.

At the end of 2017, the Ministry of Ecological Transition confirmed its intention to reduce electricity generation from nuclear power plants by 2025.

To this end, consultations are currently being held with specialists, institutions and organizations to develop a long-term energy strategy.

The action plan in this area is expected to be finalised by the end of the year.

29.01.2018 eldiario.es

A group of US hospitals will create their own generics to avoid pharmaceutical manipulation
(Image by IH vía eldiario.es))

Tired of the scarcity and high prices, more than 450 hospitals in the US have come together to create a non-profit pharmaceutical company.

Several companies are being investigated in the US and the European Union for trying to manipulate the generic drug market.

“It is a very necessary initiative and it would be interesting if we could copy it in Spain and in the European Union”, explains the expert in health planning, Fernando Lamata.

By Teguayco Pinto

Last week, a network of more than 450 hospitals in the US announced its intention to create a non-profit pharmaceutical company to manufacture generic drugs, with the aim of fighting against shortages and high prices imposed by the industry. With this movement, the hospital groups intend to exert pressure on some companies that have dedicated themselves to buying low-cost medicines, and then drastically raise prices, actions that have generated great controversy and that have led to several sanctions and investigations on violations of competition, both in the US and in the European Union.

“The creation of a non-profit company for the manufacture of generics seems to me a very interesting and promising idea,” the health planning expert, Fernando Lamata, told eldiario.es, “and I think it is a logical reaction of a consumer , as it is a hospital, before the escalation of prices and the forced shortage by some pharmaceutical companies “.

During the last decade several companies have been dedicated to acquire old drugs that no longer have a patent and that have a low cost, and then drastically raise their prices. This practice is usually done with drugs for which there was no generic competition, as in the case of epinephrine injections, EpiPen, which increased its price by five times in just 9 years.

The manipulation of the generic market

However, the current problem is not only in the “exorbitant and unjustified” prices of some brand-name drugs, but also in the generic market itself, says Lamata, who was Secretary General of Health between 2004 and 2005 and General Director of the National School of Health. “Sometimes generic cartels are made to agree on prices” or even “cheap drugs have been withdrawn from the market to force administrations to raise the price”.

The problem of manipulation of the generic market exploded definitively in October of last year, when the general prosecutors of 45 US states presented a document accusing 18 companies of reaching agreements to divide the generic market and fix, for advance, the prices of up to 15 different medications.

Cases in this regard are also being investigated in the EU, such as that of Aspen Pharma. In February of last year, the National Securities Market Commission initiated a disciplinary action against this pharmaceutical company for “possible abusive practices, which would consist in refusing to supply certain medications and applying excessive prices to them”.

It was not the first time that this company was facing a suit in a European country. In 2016, the Italian authorities imposed a fine of more than 5 million euros on this company after verifying that it had threatened the Italian Drug Agency with interrupting the supply of certain medicines if its price increases were not accepted.

After these two complaints, the European Commission launched an investigation in May last year for a possible abuse of a dominant position. The Commission suspects that Aspen may have used “unfair and abusive bargaining practices with national authorities,” including “the reduction of direct supply of drugs and the threat of supply reductions.”

A strategic option for Spain

The four hospital groups in the United States that have proposed the creation of a non-profit company are Intermountain Health, Ascension and the Catholic health systems, Trinity Health and SSM Health. In addition, they will also have the support of the health system for veterans of the US Army.

Although the health systems of the US and Spain are diametrically opposed, Lamata believes that “it would be interesting to copy this initiative in the European Union”, since, “national governments are being overwhelmed by the alteration of prices.” “For a country like Spain,” says Lamata, the creation of a public company of this type “would be a very interesting strategic decision”, since “the manufacture of generics has a very low cost and can be addressed without much difficulty”.

However, the idea raised by these hospital groups has also received some criticism that they consider it difficult to carry out a company of this type. In an opinion article published in the journal Science, pharmaceutical market expert Derek Lowe points out the regulatory problems that this new company would face.

“If this company is going to start its own effort to manufacture generic products, it will have to stand in line for the FDA to grant it authorization,” Lowe says. In addition, he affirms that there is already an important regulatory “bottleneck” with many companies queuing to receive authorization from the agency, so adding a new request would only further complicate the process. Even so, the FDA has already announced its intention to streamline procedures for all those companies that are developing projects to alleviate the shortage of generics.

29.01.2018 David Swanson

The Post should be viewed by current editors of The Post

I was afraid that The Post would give us a Hollywood film version of the publication of the Pentagon Papers and manage never to say what was in the Pentagon Papers. I was afraid it would be turned into a pro-war movie. I was afraid we’d be told that the Washington Post was a courageous institution while Daniel Ellsberg was a dirty traitor. I am pleased to have had no reason for such concerns.

The Post is not exactly an anti-war movie, Ellsberg is not a main character, the peace movement is just rabble scenery, and the major focus is split between journalism’s struggle against government and Katherine Graham’s struggle against sexism. But we are in fact told in this film that the Pentagon Papers documented decades of official war lies and the continuation of mass-slaughter year-after-year purely out of cowardly unwillingness to be the one to end it. The Postleaves Ellsberg looking like the hero he is and Robert McNamara looking like the Nazi he was. And I’m left to complain that I have nothing to complain about.

Well, except this: We’re supposed to believe that the fact that the U.S. government had been blatantly lying about its motivations, actions, and analyses of its warmaking for decades came as a shocking revelation to every intern, reporter, editor, and publisher at the Washington Post, that they all had simply had no idea, bless their hearts, and that they all immediately believed that this brand-new truth needed to be told (with the only hurdle being the willingness of the publisher to stick to the obvious course of action when faced with legal threats from the Justice Department).

This story obscures the fact that senators, Congress members, independent reporters like I.F. Stone, and many others had been exposing the lies in real time for years. And, of course, many statements appeared to be lies without the need for any exposure. We’re expected to overlook the willful suspension of disbelief required to believe, for example, that predicting imminent success in Vietnam over and over again for years was all driven by honest reflection on facts. The peace movement was the massive recognition of the lies. The peace movement persuaded Ellsberg to act. The people running the Washington Post cannot have been quite as oblivious as we’re led to believe.

The same tale of innocence also may leave the moviegoer with the entirely false impression that the Washington Post has instinctively challenged the most blatant war lies ever since the days of Tricky Dick. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ellsberg has said that Trump should see this movie. I’d rather Jeff Bezos and each of his employees at the current Post see it.

Here are some of the wars that the Washington Post has helped to promote since the moment the credits rolled: Grenada, Panama, the Gulf War (the Post outdid itself promoting a fictional account of babies being taken out of incubators), Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, and drone wars in general.

Here are the wars I am aware of the Washington Post having opposed: _______________.

The current U.S.-Saudi war on Yemen is unusual for the Post‘s pretense that the U.S. military isn’t actively engaged in it, even while admirably asking the U.S. to ask the Saudis to open the ports.

Here’s an excerpt from my book, War Is A Lie:

In May and June 2005, the most repeated excuse by U.S. media outlets, including the Washington Post, for not covering the Downing Street Minutes and related documents demonstrating the dishonesty of the planners of the War on Iraq, was that the documents told us nothing new, that they were old news. This conflicted, of course, with the second most common excuse, which was that they were false.

Those of us trumpeting the story as new and important scratched our heads. Of course we’d known the Bush-Cheney gang was lying, but did everyone know that? Had corporate media outlets reported it? Had they informed the public of confirmation of this fact in the form of memos from top government officials in the United Kingdom? And if so, when? When had this particular piece of news been new news?

At what point did it become stale and unnecessary to report that Bush had decided by the summer of 2002 to go to war and to use false justifications related to weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorism? Judging by opinion polls in spring 2005, we hadn’t reached that point yet. Much of the public still believed the lies.

If you went back, as I did, and reviewed all the issues of the Washington Post that had come out in June, July, and August 2002, you found that, while what was happening behind closed doors in Washington and London may have been known to the Washington Post, it certainly never informed its readers.[i] In fact, during that three month period, I found a flood of pro-war articles, editorials, and columns, many of them promoting the lies the debunking of which was supposedly old news.

On August 18, 2002, for example, the Washington Post ran an editorial, an ombudsman column, and three op-eds about a potential U.S. attack on Iraq, as well as three related “news” articles. One article, placed on the top of the front page, reported on a memo that Secretary of “Defense” Donald Rumsfeld had sent to the White House and the media. Defense officials were worried that countries such as Iraq or Iran could use cruise missile technology to attack U.S. installations or the American homeland.

The article contained the admission that no particular piece of new intelligence prompted the warning. What prompted the reporting?

The second Post article –- by Dana Milbank urged Bush to hurry up and argue for an attack on Iraq before opponents of such an attack raised their voices too loudly. The headline was, White House Push for Iraqi Strike Is On Hold: Waiting to Make Case for Action Allows Invasion Opponents to Dominate Debate. While the article did touch on some of the opponentsarguments, it mainly focused on arguments about how best to persuade the American public and European politicians to support a war.

A third article by Glenn Kessler was called Rice Details the Case for War With Iraq. It began:

The United States and other nations have little choice but to seek the removal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said. This is an evil man who, left to his own devices, will wreak havoc again on his own population, his neighbors and, if he gets weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, on all of us, Rice told the BBC. There is a very powerful moral case for regime change. We certainly do not have the luxury of doing nothing.’”

The Post’s editorial on August 18 urged the White House to make its case for war, and advised it to do so on the grounds that Saddam Hussein had refused to get rid of weapons. Heres the last paragraph of the editorial:

A preemptive war carries another danger: that it will seem to legitimize aggression by any stronger nation against a weaker regime in disfavor. It has long seemed to us that targeting the weapons of Saddam Hussein carries a legitimacy that other such attacks would not, because the U.N. Security Council more than a decade ago demanded that he rid himself of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, and he has refused to do so. That is also a case that the administration must make more persuasively.

The Post’s ombudsman column on the same day was titled Covering the War Before it Starts,and lamented the Post’s biased coverage in favor of attacking Iraq. Unfortunately, this admirable observation was overshadowed by three much longer op-eds on the next page.

The best of them, David Broders, questioned the accuracy of CIA information on Iraq, briefly mentioned a few concerns, and then joined the chorus urging Bush to make his case.

The worst of the op-eds which was placed at the top and center of the page, illustrated by a clenched fist with an Uncle Sam sleeve pounding on a map of Iraq was by former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. The title was If We Must Fight . . . . It didnt call proponents of peace assisters of terrorism, as a Post column had done some months earlier, but it did assume there was no reason to work for peace.

Brzezinski offered advice to the President in a list of five recommended steps to war: First, Brzezinski joined the chorus in suggesting that the President must articulate some sort of reason for attacking Iraq. Second, Brzezinski suggested that the reason the President articulates must be that Hussein is producing weapons in defiance of the Security Council. (Brzezinski was good enough to add that Hussein did not use chemical weapons in the last war and that some reason must be provided to believe he would use them in the future). Third, the United States must take the lead in a new proposal for weapons inspections. Europe would support this, and Hussein would not, giving the United States a good excuse to attack. (Here we have Brzezinski plotting publicly as Prime Minister Tony Blair was privately to “wrong-foot Saddam” — the phrase Britain’s ambassador to the United States used privately in March 2002 to describe a process of manipulating Hussein into refusing inspections, thereby creating an excuse for war). Fourth, the United States must work for peace between Israel and Palestine, so that an attack on Iraq is not viewed together with the U.S.-backed Israeli assaults on Palestinians a combination bound to anger quite a lot of people. And fifth, the United States should plan to occupy Iraq after demolishing it.

The Post’s final op-ed was by Charles liberals are stupid Krauthammer. He attacked the New York Times for its allegedly biased coverage against attacking Iraq. Krauthammer was upset that the Times had covered some of the stories that the Post’s ombudsman criticized the Post for not covering including the expression of opposition to or concern about attacking Iraq on the part of various legislators and officials.

Remember this was the same objective media that had been so upset with President Clinton for missing a chance to launch a war on Iraq in 1998. This was the same media that didnt blink when Bush’s Chief of Staff Andrew Card explained the delay until September 2002 of the most aggressive war propaganda by remarking You dont introduce new products in August.

The war would be built on a planned marketing campaign, not resorted to as a last resort. This fact was not a scandal to be reported in the news or to legal authorities; this was what the Washington Post had repeatedly and publicly requested. The Post wanted war but wanted the President to sell the war well.

This was the same Washington Post that had written of the rising pro-war fever in the country in 1918: In spite of excesses such as lynching [peace activists] it is a healthy and wholesome awakening.[ii]

[i] David Swanson, “Remember When Bush’s Lies Weren’t ‘Old News?’” June 20, 2005. Accessed October 9, 2010. http://old.warisacrime.org/node/407

[ii] Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, p. 80.

26.01.2018 Pressenza London

We’re climate researchers and our work was turned into fake news
(Image by rawpixel.com / shutterstock – via The Conversation)

Michael Grubb, UCL

Science is slow. It rests on painstaking research with accumulating evidence. This makes for an inherently uneasy relationship with the modern media age, especially once issues are politicised. The interaction between politics and media can be toxic for science, and climate change is a prominent example.

Take the recent “deep freeze” along the US east coast. To scientists, it was one more piece of a larger jigsaw of climate change disrupting weather systems and circulation patterns. This includes dramatic changes seen in Arctic sea ice and the knock-on effect on temperatures elsewhere in northern latitudes – both warming and relative cooling. To President Donald Trump the cold snap was a chance to mock climate change, and some sceptics suddenly talked about an impending ice age.

Colleagues and I experienced similar frustrations in late 2017, after we published a paper in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience, in which we concluded that there was more headroom than many had assumed before we breach the goals of the Paris Agreement. We found ourselves not only on the front page of the main British newspapers, but globally, as far-right website Breitbart ran with a story that a small band of buccaneering scientists had finally admitted that the models were all wrong – a fiction rapidly picked up by the more rabid elements in the media.

The essence of good science is to continually update, challenge, improve and refine, using as much evidence as possible. Single events rarely make for good science. And if every painstaking evaluation, updating work from years ago, may be portrayed as demolishing everything that went before – particularly at the whim of non-scientific agendas – then we have a major dilemma. The edifice of science is built with small bricks and this research was no exception.

We emphatically did not show that climate change was “less bad” or “happening slower” than previously thought. Our work built on the many previous scientific studies that had looked at the risks of unchecked emissions and the prospects for limiting warming to 2℃ above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement went further, aiming to “pursue efforts” towards a more ambitious goal of just 1.5℃. Given we’re already at around 1℃ of warming, that’s a relatively short-term goal. Greater ambition therefore requires greater precision.

Our study took a microscope to that question. Where previous estimates were drawn from a range of mostly long-run models that looked at century-long changes, we instead focused on a precise definition and current starting point, and other factors which matter far less in the long term, but a lot if the goal is much closer.

Some of the earlier estimates seemed to imply a “headroom to 1.5℃” of less than a decade of current emissions – clearly unachievable given the long timespans and huge inertia. We estimated about 20 years – equivalent to global CO₂ emissions falling steadily from now until hitting zero in around 40 years – and made it plain that it still looks, to put it mildly, a formidable ambition.
Other studies have since come to similar conclusions.

A (non-)story of revolution

The more detailed reporting by those correspondents who attended the scientific briefing was accurate enough (even if some of their headlines and lead-ins weren’t), but that was soon lost in the misrepresentations that followed. Doubtless we could have done more to explain how our conclusions arose from what were actually quite minor scientific developments. Some instead turned it into a story of revolution in climate science. Scientists are also human, and these sceptic reactions reinforced a natural initial inclination among other researchers to defend their previous numbers. Some took to Twitter to do so, but themselves seemed to confuse the media headlines with our actual conclusions.

Some challenges could yet be proved right. There could, for example, be more pent-up warming currently being masked by other pollutants or already lurking in the oceans. When the goal is close, other heat-trapping emissions (like methane) also matter a lot more. Our study – like earlier work – had its share of caveats and uncertainties.

Unfortunately, while good science embraces uncertainty, politics abhors it and the media seems confounded by it. That in turn pressures researchers to simplify their message, and treat existing estimates – often, from a range – like a position to be defended. It is a risky trap for scientists, however eminent and well-intentioned, to wield overnight reactions to parry months of painstaking peer review and refinement that lie behind analyses published in leading journals.

Science against spin

So how should science respond? The climate policy implications are easy: nothing significant has changed. We have but one planet, and both the physical and economic processes that are driving climate change have enormous inertia. If a big ocean liner were steaming into dense fog in polar seas, only a fool would maintain full speed on the basis that the technicians were still discussing the distance to the first big iceberg.

One underlying challenge is indeed around the communication of uncertainty. This is a well-worn track, but it bears repeating. The job of science is not just to narrow uncertainties, but to educate about the risks that flow logically from it. Like a medical prognosis from smoking, the fact that things might turn out better or worse than the average is not a good reason to keep puffing. You won’t know until it is too late whether the damage has been slight, or terminal.

But science also needs to embrace and embed another obvious feature of medical practice: a doctor would never look at just your temperature to diagnose your condition. So part of the problem stems from using a single indicator for complex processes. Too much debate treats temperature (and especially the most recent global average) as the sole indicator, whereas many other factors are at play including sea levels, ocean acidity, ice sheets, ecosystem trends, and many more.

The ConversationThese other trends need to be reported in context, just as economics news reports not only GDP but debt, employment, inflation, productivity and a host of other indicators. And scientists themselves need to improve the art of communication in a world where research can be spun, within hours, into a story of past failure, rather than the reality of continuous improvement.

Michael Grubb, Professor of Energy and Climate Change, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

26.01.2018 – Washington D.C., USA Pressenza Budapest

It is now 2 minutes to midnight!

We republish the press statement, released on the 25th of January, 2018 from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

Citing growing nuclear risks and unchecked climate dangers, the iconic Doomsday Clock is now 30 seconds closer to midnight, the closest to the symbolic point of annihilation that the Clock has been since 1953 at the height of the Cold War. The decision announced today to move the Doomsday Clock to two minutes before midnight was made by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board in consultation with the Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel Laureates. The full text of the Doomsday Clock statement is available at http://www.thebulletin.org and includes key recommendations about how to #RewindtheDoomsdayClock.

Video from the Doomsday Clock announcement at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., is available at http://clock.thebulletin.org/ and on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BulletinOfTheAtomicScientists/.

The statement explaining the resetting of the time of the Doomsday Clock notes: “In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II. The greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm. North Korea’s nuclear weapons program appeared to make remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks for itself, other countries in the region, and the United States. Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions on both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation …. On the climate change front, the danger may seem less immediate, but avoiding catastrophic temperature increases in the long run requires urgent attention now …. The nations of the world will have to significantly decrease their greenhouse gas emissions to keep climate risks manageable, and so far, the global response has fallen far short of meeting this challenge.”

Fueling concerns about the potential of a nuclear holocaust are a range of U.S.-Russian military entanglements, South China Sea tensions, escalating rhetoric between Pakistan and India, and uncertainty about continued U.S. support for the Iran nuclear deal. Contributing to the risks of nuclear and non-nuclear clashes around the globe are the rise of nation-state information technology and internet-based campaigns attacking infrastructure and free elections, according to the statement.

Also highlighted as an overarching global concern: The decline of U.S. leadership and a related demise of diplomacy under the Trump Administration. “… [T]here has also been a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent U.S. actions. In 2017, the United States backed away from its longstanding leadership role in the world, reducing its commitment to seek common ground and undermining the overall effort toward solving pressing global governance challenges. Neither allies nor adversaries have been able to reliably predict U.S. actions or understand when U.S. pronouncements are real, and when they are mere rhetoric. International diplomacy has been reduced to name-calling, giving it a surrealistic sense of unreality that makes the world security situation ever more threatening.”

In January 2017, the Doomsday Clock’s minute hand edged forward by 30 seconds, to two and half minutes before midnight. For the first time, the Doomsday Clock was influenced by statements from an incoming U.S. President, Donald Trump, regarding the proliferation and the prospect of actually using nuclear weapons, as well as statements made in opposition to U.S. commitments regarding climate change.

Rachel Bronson, president and CEO, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said: “Because of the extraordinary danger of the current moment, the Science and Security Board today moves the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to catastrophe. It is now two minutes to midnight­­­­—the closest the Clock has ever been to Doomsday, and as close as it was in 1953, at the height of the Cold War.”

Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, Foundation Professor at School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Department, Arizona State University, and chair, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Board of Sponsors, said: “The current, extremely dangerous state of world affairs need not be permanent. The means for managing dangerous technology and reducing global-scale risk exist; indeed, many of them are well-known and within society’s reach, if leaders pay reasonable attention to preserving the long-term prospects of humanity, and if citizens demand that they do so. This is a dangerous time, but the danger is of our own making. Humankind has invented the implements of apocalypse; so can it invent the methods of controlling and eventually eliminating them. This year, leaders and citizens of the world can move the Doomsday Clock and the world away from the metaphorical midnight of global catastrophe by taking common-sense action.”

Robert Rosner, William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and Physics at the University of Chicago, and chair, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, said: “We hope this resetting of the Clock will be interpreted exactly as it is meant—as an urgent warning of global danger. The time for world leaders to address looming nuclear danger and the continuing march of climate change is long past. The time for the citizens of the world to demand such action is now: #RewindtheDoomsdayClock.”

Sharon Squassoni, research professor of practice at the Institute for International Science and Technology Policy, Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University, and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, said: “In the past year, U.S. allies have needed reassurance about American intentions more than ever. Instead, they have been forced to negotiate a thicket of conflicting policy statements from a U.S. administration weakened in its cadre of foreign policy professionals, suffering from turnover in senior leadership, led by an undisciplined and disruptive president, and unable to develop, coordinate, and clearly communicate a coherent nuclear policy. This inconsistency constitutes a major challenge for deterrence, alliance management, and global stability. It has made the existing nuclear risks greater than necessary and added to their complexity.”

Sivan Kartha, senior scientist at the Stockholm Environmental Institute and co-leader of SEI’s Gender and Social Equity Program, and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, said:  “2017 just clocked in as the hottest year on record that wasn’t boosted by an El Nino. And that matches what we’ve witnessed on the ground: the Caribbean suffered a season of historic damage from exceedingly powerful hurricanes, extreme heat waves struck across the globe, the Arctic ice cap hit its lowest winter peak on record, and the U.S. suffered devastating wildfires. And while this was happening, the Trump administration dutifully carried through on the campaign promise of derailing U.S. climate policy, putting avowed climate denialists in top cabinet positions, and announcing plans to withdraw from the Paris climate Agreement. Thankfully, this didn’t cause global cooperation to unravel, and other countries have reaffirmed their commitment to take action against climate change.”

#RewindtheDoomsdayClock is a major message of the 2018 statement, with the following action steps among those recommended:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump should refrain from provocative rhetoric regarding North Korea, recognizing the impossibility of predicting North Korean reactions. The U.S. and North Korean governments should open multiple channels of communication.
  • The world community should pursue, as a short-term goal, the cessation of North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile tests. North Korea is the only country to violate the norm against nuclear testing in 20 years.
  • The Trump administration should abide by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for Iran’s nuclear program unless credible evidence emerges that Iran is not complying with the agreement or Iran agrees to an alternative approach that meets U.S. national security needs.
  • The United States and Russia should discuss and adopt measures to prevent peacetime military incidents along the borders of NATO.
  • U.S. and Russian leaders should return to the negotiating table to resolve differences over the INF treaty, to seek further reductions in nuclear arms, to discuss a lowering of the alert status of the nuclear arsenals of both countries, to limit nuclear modernization programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race, and to ensure that new tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons are not built, and existing tactical weapons are never used on the battlefield.
  • U.S. citizens should demand, in all legal ways, climate action from their government. Climate change is a real and serious threat to humanity.
  • Governments around the world should redouble their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so they go well beyond the initial, inadequate pledges under the Paris Agreement.
  • The international community should establish new protocols to discourage and penalize the misuse of information technology to undermine public trust in political institutions, in the media, in science, and in the existence of objective reality itself.

23.01.2018 Waging Nonviolence

Worker Cooperatives Offer Real Alternatives to Trump’s Retrograde Economic Vision
Tim Wilkins, who has worked at the cooperative for a year and a half, moves trays of lettuce to be harvested. (Image by Evergreen Cooperatives)

By Sarah Aziza

Announcing his presidency in 2016, Donald Trump promised the nation that he’d become “the greatest job president God ever created.” His plan to accomplish this rested on a retrograde economic vision that would “make America great again,” by restoring waning coal and manufacturing jobs, as well as putting an end to the alleged assault on American work by foreign immigrants and global competition.

A year later, his attempts to realize this vision have largely consisted of backwards motion. In October, he rolled back the Clean Power Plan, arguing that carbon emissions regulations, rather than the widespread shift away from fossil fuels, were responsible for the decline of U.S. coal. While the striking of these environmental protections leaves the door open for corporations to exacerbate climate change, it has done little to uplift the so-called “Rust Belt,” where he garnered so much support. Meanwhile, at the Indiana Carrier plant — where Trump made a dramatic showing of his “deal” to keep manufacturing jobs from moving to Mexico — hundreds of workers have been laid off, including over 200 just last week.

While the struggle for living wages and steady work is a real concern for millions of Americans, these high-profile gestures are emblematic of a persistent, fallacious narrative. It is one that touts an era of bygone American prosperity, which Trump, and those like him, promise can be restored through top-down, reactionary policies. Not only does this telling obscure or scapegoat communities of color — which are often disproportionately affected by the loss of manufacturing work and the suppression of wages — it also erases the agency of the American worker, who is left at the mercy of politicians and corporate executives.

Yet across the country, many of the nation’s most disenfranchised are writing a different story. In dozens of cities, worker-owner cooperatives are establishing new enterprises based on joint decision-making, dignified work conditions and fair pay. Utilizing their existing skills and harnessing new ones, these groups are leveraging their labor on their own terms, with a vision to change their industries and the economic landscape. And in this rising movement, people of color, immigrants and women are leading the way.

There are many reasons why cooperatives are well-suited to these demographics, says Esteban Kelly, executive director of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, or USFWC, a nationwide coalition representing over 160 co-ops. “Cooperatives are very appealing for people who have been locked out of the traditional job market, or who tend to get locked in to jobs which have low wages and poor working conditions,” he said. “We are seeing a lot of momentum in the service sectors, like child care and elderly care, early education, hospice, and other labor-intensive, low-wage jobs — and these tend to be comprised of many people of color, indigenous people, immigrants and women.”

Maru Bautista, director of cooperative development at the Center for Family Life in Brooklyn, New York, says she’s seen cooperatives bring a path out of poverty and exploitation for many in her community. “In our community, there are lots of people who couldn’t find work the traditional way — due to lack of formal education, a mismatch of skills or a language barrier.”

The worker-owner model, by contrast, allows these individuals to leverage their strengths and draw on their community. “For some of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever had a chance to have agency in their work, their schedules, their pay,” explained Bautista. The center began incubating cooperatives in 2006, offering training, counsel and small grants. Since then, the center has fostered 18 co-ops throughout New York City in services like home cleaning, pet care, and repair-work.

According to USFWC data, the average hourly wage in a worker co-op is $16.54, with an average of 31 hours per week. And while competing in the mainstream economy means these companies aren’t able to raise wages significantly above the market rate, Kelly says the cooperative model offers many other benefits to members. Joint decision-making lends more dignity to the workplace, “and many cooperatives have better benefits or offer more in the way of training and career development.”

For Bautista, every step of cooperative-building offers a chance for political training, too. “Everything we do is rooted in social justice,” she explained. “We not only teach workers how to plan and execute a business, but we also teach them about the ways capitalist systems are at work out there, so they don’t replicate the same oppression. We ask them, what kind of world do you want to see? And then we help them build that.”

These things take time, Bautista admits. “If someone needs to get food on the table tomorrow, starting a co-op may not be the answer. But when people are able to commit, many of them find it to be very rewarding.”

These “humane, creative” work environments, Kelly says, lead to a very high retention rate in many co-ops, and a 2015 study found that worker co-ops often provide full-time work in industries characterized by part-time employment.

On the demand side, the co-op movement dovetails well with emerging trends, including the “gig” economy and efforts by many communities to buy local. Conscious consumers often gravitate towards businesses that are owned and operated by their neighbors, and doing so has tangible benefits for the community. By circulating revenue back into their local community, Kelly says that co-ops are a great way to “anchor” wealth in local economies. Cooperatives often encourage a more “humane” buying experience, Kelly adds, as they tend to be smaller in size — the median number is nine members per co-op.

Cooperatives can support and also protect vulnerable communities at risk of being displaced by the forces of gentrification. In Florida, for example, immigrant business owners are using the cooperative model to solidify enterprises in their communities by selling their companies to their employees. This disperses the responsibility as well as the profits for the business, granting stable work to a greater number of members and reducing the risk that the business will close if the original owner must relocate.

The worker-owner movement is still relatively small — estimates range between 200 and 300 such cooperatives operate nationwide — but a growing number of cities, counties and states are beginning to look at cooperatives more seriously. Some have taken active steps to support worker-owners through funding and legislation, as in New York City, which has spent $8 million on worker-owned enterprises in the last five years. In 2016, the city instituted the worker-owner leadership council NOW NYC. The city of Philadelphia added worker cooperatives as a line item on their 2018 budget, while cities as diverse as Madison, Cleveland, Oakland and Jackson have all passed progressive policies to support co-ops.

Kelly credits these heartening trends in large part to the years of hard work put in by co-op advocates who have lobbied their case to local and national legislators. Yet the cause is much more than a “special interest” debate, say many advocates — there is a viable case to be made for the economic power of worker-ownership. According to a 2015 study, cooperatives produced roughly $395 million a year, and that number is almost certainly higher now.

“The field of worker co-op development is just beginning to create the infrastructure and knowledge base needed to increase its scale and impact,” wrote Hilary Abell in “Worker Cooperatives: Pathways to Scale,” an extensive report for the Democracy Collaborative, a research and advocacy institute dedicated to progressive economics.

A primary barrier to this expansion, Abell writes, is difficulty in accessing capital. Many mainstream banks are wary of lending to cooperatives, she says, and co-op members often lack the capital to finance themselves. However, there are alternatives to traditional banks, including Community Development Financial Institutions, such as the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund, which focus on supporting cooperatives. In fact, some of these creditors report being underutilized, indicating a disconnect between the needs and know-how of cooperatives. “Small co-ops that need outside funding may be able to find it if they have sound business plans,” Abell concluded.

Such sound business planning may not come naturally to all would-be worker-owners. “Not surprisingly, many of the people who are forming co-ops don’t have a background in business and finance — and in the case of communities of color, women, indigenous peoples, immigrants, et cetera, there are a lot of systemic reasons for this,” Kelly said. “So we work really hard to offer training in these things, including webinars, seminars, informational packets, and even some direct hand-holding to help them get on their feet.”

Many other co-ops are taking advantage of technical training offered by USFWC and other organizations to plug their businesses into the online market, says Ana Martina, who serves as membership director of USFWC and supervises much of the organization’s technical programming. “It’s really important to give co-ops the tools to market themselves online,” she said. “This allows them to compete and connects them with clients beyond their own social circles.” In developing their online presence, many are turning to worker-owned and open-source platforms. “Tech is definitely a fast-growing aspect of the co-op movement,” Martina added.

In New York, the Center for Family Life has used online platforms to boost local home-cleaning cooperatives through Up & Go, a cooperative web-based application that connects worker-owners to clients. “Getting our workers plugged in to tech is so crucial, as people are changing the way they find services,” Bautista said. “A lot of our co-ops don’t have a lot of capital for marketing, so we created this open platform where anyone who becomes a member can use this site to promote their business. This has built community among individual co-ops, and it makes co-ops a stronger competitor in the mainstream market.”

Looking ahead, advocates like Kelly hope the recent trend of steady growth continues. He points to other economies where co-ops play an influential role — in Argentina, there are over 6,000 co-ops, while the number in Spain and Italy exceeds 18,000 and 25,000, respectively. Yet the United States presents a unique set of challenges, perhaps most notably the wide disparities in regulations between various state and local governments. Coop advocates are also watching to see what effects the new tax bill may have. “We often find ourselves in a weird place, caught between tax laws that affect individuals — our worker-owners — and tax laws applying to corporations. We have to be vigilant,” Kelly said.

There is, however, a growing body of research on how to move the U.S. co-op economy towards scale, and with the growing support of state and local governments, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful. Researchers at the Democracy at Work Institute, or DWI, also tout the opportunity for cooperatives to “influence the larger economy,” arguing that they could “change the debate by changing the conditions of work itself and how we distribute the fruits of our labor.”

In addition to starting new co-ops, many advocates point to “conversions” as an even quicker path to expanding the movement: DWI estimates roughly seven million businesses owned by baby boomers will be sold in the next several years, with a projected $10 trillion changing hands by 2025. These already-established businesses offer a fast-track to worker-coops; they can be purchased and “flipped” to a cooperative model, saving the time, effort and capital needed to incubate a business from scratch.

For Bautista, the cooperative movement is only just beginning to reveal its potential. After nearly a decade of building locally owned-and-operated collaboratives, she says the accumulation of skills, awareness and technical know-how among her clients is paying off. “We are constantly looking for new ways to empower workers, and they are finding lots of inspiration from each other,” she said. “It’s exciting to watch. And we’re hopeful this will just get bigger and bigger.”

24.01.2018 Robert Burrowes

Why Fear and Self-hatred Destroy Human Sharing and Solidarity
(Image by Juan Carlos Marín)

As our world spirals deeper into an abyss from which it is becoming increasingly difficult to extricate ourselves, some very prominent activists have lamented the lack of human solidarity in the face of the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya. See ‘The Rohingya tragedy shows human solidarity is a lie’ and ‘Wrongs of rights activism around Rohingyas’.

While I share the genuine concern of the Yemeni Nobel peace laureate Tawakkol Karman and Burmese dissident and scholar Dr Maung Zarni, and have offered my own way forward for responding powerfully to the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya – see ‘A Nonviolent Strategy to Defeat Genocide’ – in my view the lack of solidarity they mention is utterly pervasive and readily evident in our lacklustre official and personal responses to the many ongoing crises in which humanity finds itself.

To mention just the most obvious: Every day governments spend $US2 billion on weapons and warfare while a billion people lack the basic resources to live a decent life (and more than 100,000 of these people starve to death). Every day millions of people live under dictatorship, occupation or suffer the impacts of military invasion. Every day another 28,800 people are forcibly displaced from their home. Every day another 200 species of life are driven to extinction. And every day our biosphere is driven one step closer to making human life (and perhaps all life) on Earth impossible. See ‘Killing the Biosphere to Fast-track Human Extinction’.

It is not as if any of this information is unavailable. Just as many people and major international organizations are well aware of the plight of the Rohingya, it is also the case that many people and these organizations are well aware of the state of our world in other respects. And still virtually nothing meaningful happens (although there are tokenistic responses to some of these crises).

Hence, it is a straightforward observation that human solidarity is notably absent in virtually any attempt to tackle the major issues of our time. And the Rohingya are just one manifestation of this problem.

Given that I have long observed this phenomenon both personally and politically, and it concerns me as well, I would like to explain psychologically why the lack of sharing and solidarity is such a pervasive problem and suggest what we can do about it.

In order to feel concern for those who are suffering, and to want to act in solidarity to alleviate their suffering, it is necessary to experience certain feelings such as sympathy, empathy, compassion, love and (personal) power. Moreover, it is necessary that these feelings are not suppressed or overwhelmed by fear and, equally importantly, not overwhelmed by a feeling of (unconscious) self-hatred. If someone is scared and full of unconscious self-hatred, then they can have little interest in sharing their own resources or acting in solidarity with those who need help. And this applies whether the adversely impacted individual is a close relative or friend, or someone on the other side of the world.

So why is fear in this context so important? Simply because fear grotesquely distorts perception and behaviour. Let me explain why and how.

If an individual is (consciously or unconsciously) frightened that one or more of their vital needs will not be met, they will be unable to share resources or to act in solidarity with others, whatever the circumstances. In virtually all cases where an individual experiences this fear, the needs that the individual fears will not be met are emotional ones (including the needs for listening, understanding and love). However, the fearful individual is never aware of these deep emotional needs and of the functional ways of having these needs met which, admittedly, is not easy to do given that listening, understanding and love are not readily available from others who have themselves been denied these needs.

Moreover, because the emotional needs are ‘hidden’ from the individual, the individual (particularly one who lives in a materialist culture) often projects that the need they want met is, in fact, a material need.

This projection occurs because children who are crying, angry or frightened are often scared into not expressing their feelings and offered material items – such as a toy or food – to distract them instead. The distractive items become addictive drugs. This is why most violence is overtly directed at gaining control of material, rather than emotional, resources. The material resource becomes a dysfunctional and quite inadequate replacement for satisfaction of the emotional need. And, because the material resource cannot ‘work’ to meet an emotional need, the individual is most likely to keep using direct and/or structural violence to gain control of more material resources in an unconscious and utterly futile attempt to meet unidentified emotional needs.

This is the reason why people such as the Rothschild family, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Amancio Ortega, Mark Zuckerberg, Carlos Slim, the Walton family and the Koch brothers as well as the world’s other billionaires and millionaires seek material wealth, and are willing to do so by taking advantage of structures of exploitation held in place by the US military. They are certainly wealthy in the material sense; unfortunately, they are utterly terrified (and full of self-hatred) and each of them justly deserves the appellation ‘poor little rich boy’ (or girl).

If this was not the case, their conscience, their compassion, their empathy, their sympathy and, indeed, their love would compel them to use or disperse their wealth in ways that would alleviate world poverty and nurture restoration of the ancient, just and ecologically sustainable economy: local self-reliance. See ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth’.

Of course, it is not just the billionaires and millionaires of the corporate elite who have suffered this fate.

Those intellectuals in universities and think tanks who accept payment to ‘justify’ (or simply participate in without question) the worldwide system of violence and exploitation, those politicians, bureaucrats and ordinary businesspeople who accept payment to manage it, those judges and lawyers who accept payment to act as its legal (but immoral) guardians, those media editors and journalists who accept payment to obscure the truth, as well as the many middle and working class people who accept payment to perform other roles to defend it (such as those in the military, police, prison and education systems), are either emotionally void or just too frightened to resist violence and exploitation, in one or more of its many manifestations.

Moreover, governments that use military violence to gain control of material resources are simply governments composed of many individuals with this dysfunctionality, which is very common in industrialized countries that promote materialism. Thus, cultures that unconsciously allow and encourage this dysfunctional projection (that an emotional need is met by material acquisition) are the most violent both domestically and internationally. This also explains why industrialized (material) countries use military violence to maintain political and economic structures that allow ongoing exploitation of non-industrialized countries in Africa, Asia and Central/South America.

But, equally importantly, many ‘ordinary’ people are just too scared to share (more than a token of) what they have and to act in solidarity with those who suffer whether through military or other violence, exploitation, persecution, oppression or occupation. Of course, it takes courage to resist this violent world order. But underlying courage is a sense of responsibility towards one’s fellow beings (human and otherwise) and the future.

As noted above, however, fear is not the only problem. Two primary outcomes of fear are self-hatred and powerlessness. Here is how it happens.

When each of us is a child, if our parents, teachers and/or the other adults around us are frightened by a feeling – such as sadness, anger or fear – that we are expressing, then they will use a variety of techniques to stop us expressing this feeling. They might, for example, comfort us to stop us crying, scare us out of expressing our anger (particularly at them) and reassure us so that we do not feel afraid.

Tragically, however, responses such as these have the outcome of scaring us into unconsciously suppressing our awareness of how we feel when, of course, evolutionary pressures generated emotional responses (some pleasant, some less so) to events in our life in order to help guide us into behaving appropriately at any given moment. And this suppression of how we feel is disastrous if we want children to grow up behaving functionally. This is more fully explained in Why Violence?’ and Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice.

So where does self-hatred fit into all of this? Well, if a child is angry in response to some violence to which they are being subjected (usually, of course, in an attempt to control their behavior), then they will attempt to defend themselves against this violence in an effort to persevere with their original intention.

However, if the child is then terrorized into submission by a parent or other adult (by being threatened with or experiencing some form of violence, often given the inaccurate label of ‘punishment’) the child will be compelled to unconsciously suppress their awareness of the original feelings, including anger, that were generating their behavior.

Unfortunately, there is a heavy cost to this suppression because each child is genetically programmed to follow their own self-will (manifesting through such mental functions as thoughts, feelings and conscience) rather than to obey the will of another (whether it be parent, teacher, religious figure or anyone else).

Hence, if a child is successfully terrorized into not behaving in accordance with their own self-will, they will experience a strong feeling of self-hatred precisely because they have submitted, out of fear, to the will of another.

Conscious self-hatred is an intensely unpleasant feeling to experience, however, and because the child is systematically terrorized out of expressing and acting on most of their feelings (which is why 100% of children go to school wherever school is available and compulsory: children are not given freedom of choice) the feeling of self-hatred is suppressed along with these many other feelings. Having learned to do this, subsequent opportunities for this self-hatred to be felt are progressively more easily suppressed.

An unconscious feeling does not ‘go away’ however; it is unconsciously projected elsewhere. Suppressed self-hatred is always unconsciously projected as hatred of someone else, some other group (usually of another sex, race, religion or class) and/or something else, often in imitation of the violent parent/adult (because imitation will be given ‘permission’ by the violent parent/adult). And this inevitably leads to destructive behaviors towards that individual, group and/or the ‘something else’ (including the Earth’s environment).

But, and this is important to recognize, this destructive behaviour might simply manifest as inaction: doing nothing in response to someone else’s (or the Earth’s) obvious need.

So the unconscious fear and self-hatred are projected as fear of and hatred for living beings as well as the Earth, and manifests as behavior that is destructive, often by inaction, of themselves, others and the planet.

The tragic reality is that it takes very little violence to terrorize a child and this is why a substantial proportion of the human population is consumed by their own fear and self-hatred, and feels powerless as a result. Consider the people immediately around you: many spend most of their time, consciously or unconsciously, abusing themselves, others and/or the environment, and doing nothing in response to the plight of our world.

So what can we do?

Given existing parenting practice, fear and self-hatred are not easily avoided although they are not necessarily all-consuming. But to be free of them completely requires just one thing: the fearlessness to love oneself truly. What does this mean?

To love yourself truly, you must always courageously act out your own self-will, whatever the consequences. This requires you to feel all of your emotional responses – fear, sadness, anger, pain, joy, love … – to events, including impediments, in your life. See ‘Feelings First’. It is only when you do this that you can behave with awareness: a synthesis of all of the feedback that your various mental functions give you and the judgments that arise, in an integrated way, from this feedback. See ‘Human Intelligence or Human Awareness?’

At first glance loving yourself and acting out your own self-will might sound selfish. But it is not. Self-love is true love. The individual who does not truly love themself cannot love another. Nor will they feel such emotional responses as compassion, empathy and sympathy. Hence, this individual will not seek mutually beneficial outcomes in tackling conflict, will not seek distributive justice in resource allocation, will not value ecological sustainability and will not act in solidarity with those who are suffering. It is this individual, who is terrified, self-hating and powerless, who will act selfishly.

In addition to courageously acting out your own self-will, you might also consider making ‘My Promise to Children’.

And if you love yourself enough to be part of the struggle to end the violence and exploitation of those who are full of fear and self-hatred, you might like to consider signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’ and/or using sound nonviolent strategy for your campaign or liberation struggle. See Nonviolent Campaign Strategy or Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy.

Those who are terrified and self-hating never will.

23.01.2018 Pressenza New York

Redrawing the map of Syria

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said the United States “does not want to keep Syria as a state in its current borders”, accusing Washington of seeking to establish a Kurdish-controlled entity along Turkish and Iraqi border zones.

Speaking at an annual press conference in Moscow to review the past year’s diplomatic activities on Monday Jan 13, Lavrov said:

“The [US’] actions that we have been observing indicate that the US does not want to keep Syria as a state in its current borders … The US wants to help the Syrian Democratic Forces to set up some border security zones,” he said, referring to a US-backed rebel alliance dominated by Syrian Kurds, known as the SDF. What it would mean is that vast swaths of territory along the border of Turkey and Iraq would be isolated, it’s to the east of the Euphrates river. There are difficult relations between Kurds and Arabs there. If you say that this zone will be controlled by the forces supported by the US, there will be a force of 30,000 people.”

Erdogan: US trying to form ‘terror army’ in Syria

Commenting on reports of the US plan to establish a 30,000-strong new border security force with the involvement of Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the US was working to form a “terror army” on his country’s southern border by training a new force in Syria that includes Kurdish fighters.

“What we are supposed to do is to drown this terror army before in comes into being,” he said in an address in the capital Ankara on Jan 15, calling the Kurdish fighters “backstabbers” who will point their weapons to the US in the future.

According to media reports quoting US officials, the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL also known as ISIS) will recruit around half of the new force from the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), an umbrella group of fighters dominated by the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Ankara considers Kurdish YPG fighters as a “terrorist” organization with links to to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long fight inside the country. PKK is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its Western allies. The US views the YPG as a highly effective fighting force against ISIL.

Erdogan said that Turkey’s armed forces had completed preparations for an operation against the Kurdish-controlled region of Afrin in northwest Syria and the town of Manbij.

He warned Turkey’s allies against helping “terrorists” in Syria and said: “We won’t be responsible for consequences.”

“The establishment of the so-called Syria Border Protection Force was not consulted with Turkey, which is a member of the coalition,” the Turkish foreign ministry said.

US backtracks on Syrian ‘border guard’

The United States continues to train local security forces linked to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria, but will not create a ‘border guard force’ and understands the concerns of Turkey, the U.S. Department of Defense said in a statement on Wednesday Jan 17.

“The training is designed to enhance security for displaced persons returning to their devastated communities,” the Pentagon said. “It is also essential so that ISIS cannot reemerge in liberated and ungoverned areas. This is not a new “army” or conventional ‘border guard’ force.”

The statement added that the U.S. was “keenly aware of the security concerns of Turkey, our Coalition partner and NATO ally.”

Noting that Turkey’s security concerns are legitimate, the Pentagon said it would continue to be transparent with Ankara about its efforts to defeat ISIS in Syria, “and stand by our NATO ally in its counter-terrorism efforts.”

“The military campaign against ISIS in Syria is not over and heavy fighting is still underway in the Middle Euphrates River Valley,” the Pentagon said adding:

“These security forces are internally-focused to prevent ISIS fighters from fleeing Syria and augment local security in liberated areas. These forces will protect the local population and help prevent ISIS from launching new attacks against the U.S. and its allies and partners, pending a longer-term political solution to the Syrian civil war in Geneva.”

Will Syria’s conflict redraw the map of the Middle East?

Fabrice Balanche, associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon 2, wrote in June 2017: “The global resonance of the Syrian war has a precedent from some four centuries ago: the conflict in Bohemia (1618–23), which initiated the Thirty Years’ War. Today, world powers such as Russia, China, the United States, and Europe are assessing their regional interests and the measures they will take to achieve them. The conflict itself, meanwhile, can only grow, as the Yemen example shows, given the freeing up of local actors. But amid the great instability, a new Westphalian order is emerging in the Middle East. Rather than erasing the mistakes of the past a new territorial division could end up being superimposed upon the Sykes-Picot line by which the departing colonial powers split the region.”

Not surprisingly, Michael Hayden, a former director of America’s Central Intelligence Agency told CNN in February 2016, that the international agreements made after World War Two are starting to fall apart, and may change the borders of some countries in the Middle East.

“What we see here is a fundamental melting down of the international order,” Michael Hayden said adding:

“We are seeing a melting down of the post-WWII Bretton Woods American liberal order. We are certainly seeing a melting down of the borders drawn at the time of Versailles and Sykes-Picot. I am very fond of saying Iraq no longer exists, Syria no longer exists; they aren’t coming back. Lebanon is teetering and Libya is long gone.”

Hayden described the current situation as a “tectonic” moment. “Within that we then have the war against terrorism; it is an incredibly complex time.”

Argument for greater Kurdistan

Lt. Col. Ralph Peters wrote in June 2006, the most arbitrary and distorted borders in the world are in Africa and the Middle East. Drawn by self-interested Europeans (who have had sufficient trouble defining their own frontiers), Africa’s borders continue to provoke the deaths of millions of local inhabitants. But the unjust borders in the Middle East — to borrow from Churchill — generate more trouble than can be consumed locally.

Yet, for all the injustices the borders re-imagined here leave unaddressed, without such major boundary revisions, we shall never see a more peaceful Middle East, Peters argued and added:

“The most glaring injustice in the notoriously unjust lands between the Balkan Mountains and the Himalayas is the absence of an independent Kurdish state. There are between 27 million and 36 million Kurds living in contiguous regions in the Middle East (the figures are imprecise because no state has ever allowed an honest census). Greater than the population of present-day Iraq, even the lower figure makes the Kurds the world’s largest ethnic group without a state of its own. Worse, Kurds have been oppressed by every government controlling the hills and mountains where they’ve lived since Xenophon’s day.

“The U.S. and its coalition partners missed a glorious chance to begin to correct this injustice after Baghdad’s fall. A Frankenstein’s monster of a state sewn together from ill-fitting parts, Iraq should have been divided into three smaller states immediately. We failed from cowardice and lack of vision, bullying Iraq’s Kurds into supporting the new Iraqi government — which they do wistfully as a quid pro quo for our good will. But were a free plebiscite to be held, make no mistake: Nearly 100 percent of Iraq’s Kurds would vote for independence.

“As would the long-suffering Kurds of Turkey, who have endured decades of violent military oppression and a decades-long demotion to “mountain Turks” in an effort to eradicate their identity. While the Kurdish plight at Ankara’s hands has eased somewhat over the past decade, the repression recently intensified again and the eastern fifth of Turkey should be viewed as occupied territory. As for the Kurds of Syria and Iran, they, too, would rush to join an independent Kurdistan if they could. The refusal by the world’s legitimate democracies to champion Kurdish independence is a human-rights sin of omission far worse than the clumsy, minor sins of commission that routinely excite our media. And by the way: A Free Kurdistan, stretching from Diyarbakir through Tabriz, would be the most pro-Western state between Bulgaria and Japan.”

Lt. Col. Ralph Peters further argued: “A just alignment in the region would leave Iraq’s three Sunni-majority provinces as a truncated state that might eventually choose to unify with a Syria that loses its littoral to a Mediterranean-oriented Greater Lebanon: Phoenecia reborn. The Shia south of old Iraq would form the basis of an Arab Shia State rimming much of the Persian Gulf. Jordan would retain its current territory, with some southward expansion at Saudi expense. For its part, the unnatural state of Saudi Arabia would suffer as great a dismantling as Pakistan.”


His article was published in the Armed Forces Journal under the title: Blood borders: How a better Middle East would look.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net). He is the author of several books including Islam & Muslims in the 21st Century published in 2017.

22.01.2018 Countercurrents

Yes We Can – Feed 9 Billion With Organic Agriculture
(Image by George M. Groutas)

By Gunnar Rundgren

It is possible to feed more than 9 billion people with organic production methods with a small increase in the required crop acreage and with decreased greenhouse gas emission. But this assumes considerable reduction in food wastage and in the quantities of feed grown to animals.

That is the conclusion in the paper Strategies for feeding the world more sustainably with organic agriculture in Nature Communications by researchers from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture in Switzerland, the Institute of Environmental Decisions in Switzerland, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Italy, Institute of Social Ecology Vienna in Austria and the Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences in the UK.

The research builds on assumptions of a 25% reduction in yield with organic methods, the continued increase in global population up to more than 9 billion 2050 as well as different scenarios of impact of climate change on agriculture yields. The model doesn’t assume any change in the area used for grazing. The researchers acknowledge that different research show big variation in the ”yield gap” between organic and conventional. It is primarily research from Europe that shows big yield gaps, while other studies show much smaller gaps, if any. In general their assumptions are conservative and could hardly be accused of being biased in favour of organic.

Obviously, if consumption patterns are equal and yields are lower and population increases, more land would be needed with a large-scale conversion to organic agriculture. But if food waste is reduced with 50% and this is combined with a 50% reduction in the use of human-edible crops as animal feed, less land would be used compared to a reference scenario (the assumed population, consumption and production as per 2050 in FAO:s analysis) – still more than today though.

The biggest agronomic challenge for such a large scale conversion to organic would be the supply of nitrogen. On the up-side of that, the reactive nitrogen overload of the whole biosphere, one of the biggest changes in local and global biological cycles, would be reduced and gradually disappear. The researchers acknowledge that recycling of human waste and food waste into the agriculture system could reduce the nitrogen deficiency in agriculture, but they have not included that in the model.

The exclusion of synthetic fertilizers leads to big reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, as both the use and production of Nitrogen fertilizers are major causes for emissions. Emissions from ruminants (cows, sheep and goats) will increase somewhat as their total numbers will increase (but less than the increase of population). Similarly, the greenhouse gas emissions from rice cultivation will increase because of more rice being produced.

The combination of the lower yields and the increase of leguminous plants (beans etc) in order to fix nitrogen makes the availability of animal feed lower. So the decreased use of human-edible crops as feed for animals is rather a production necessity than something triggered by consumption changes. The reduction of animals will mainly be for monogastric animals such as pigs and chicken as they are the ones that mainly eat human-edible crops.

The results of the study coincides with similar results on a national and regional level. For instance, researchers from the Nordic countries concluded that it would be possible to feed between 31 and 37 million people (compared to the current 26 million) in the Nordic countries, with organically produced food assuming substantial reduction in meat consumption.

One can claim that the results also show that you can’t convert the agriculture system to organic without increasing the cultivated lands considerably. Because, despite the conclusions of the authors, that is also a result from their scenarios. If nothing else is changed land demand will increase with 33%.

Ultimately, all this modelling and scenario-building has limited value and the results are very much fixed by the assumptions and input data. The food system is a dynamic system where you can’t change just one or two parameters and keep the rest the same. But models and scenarios can still help us to identify certain critical conditions.

The choice of the authors to change food wastage and the proportion of food fed to animals is a rather reasonable choice and not taken out of the blue. One can assume that food will become more expensive with a large-scale conversion to organic and that will reduce waste considerably. Similarly, using human-edible food as feed for animals will be less interesting from a commercial perspective when they become more expensive. The dramatic increase of consumption of pig and chicken meat is as much a result of cheap grains and soy beans as of consumer demand.  The increased consumption of pulses to compensate for the reduction of meat coincide with a need to increase the cultivation of such crops to adjust to nitrogen shortages.

There are also other assumptions that could be included in models. The total calories produced under the scenarios are far above what people need to eat and as obesity is now a big global problem, one could have reduced calories available and thus be able to show even better results AND an improved health status of the world’s population. Improvements in the utilization of grasslands could also have been a parameter to consider.

Finally, the economic feedback loops are very important. There are several ways to increase yields in agriculture, of which the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are just two. They are admittedly important, but one can increase productivity by deploying more work, other nature resources (e.g. water), by switching crops or taking more crops per year. What is done is mainly determined by economic factors. Very few farms, organic or non-organic, produce at their maximum, but they produce what is optimal given prices of factors of production and output prices. In most cases, production per person has been much more important that production per unit of land. But in a world with limited land resources and 9 billion people, this will sooner or later change.

So yes, we can. If we want to.


Gunnar Rundgren has worked with most parts of the organic farmer sector – from farming to policy – since 1977, starting on the pioneer organic farm, Torfolk. Founder and Senior Consultant of Grolink AB, he worked for several United Nations agencies and development cooperation organizations including the World Bank. He was a World Board member of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements 1998 and the president 2000-2005. He has written several books, the latest being Global Eating Disorder.

Originally published by Garden Earth

21.01.2018 International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Doctors across International Border appeal for immediate dialogue between India and Pakistan to defuse tension
(Image by http://www.idpd.org/)

Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD) and Pakistan Doctors for Peace and Development (PDPD) have jointly appealed to both the governments of India and Pakistan to immediately initiate dialogue to defuse tension at the border. Several civilians and security personnel have died in firing at the border on both the sides. Large numbers of cattle have also been killed. In addition there is loss to the property on both sides. There is migration of people staying near the border to the safer places which is affecting their day to day life adversely.

In a joint statement Dr Tipu Sultan – President PDPD, Dr S S Soodan President IDPD and Dr Shakeel Ur Rahman General Secretary IDPD have said that skirmishes at the border could trigger a larger and wider conflict. As both the countries possess nuclear weapons, in such a situation the threat of use of nuclear weapons cannot be ruled out. Any such situation would be catastrophic not only for this region, but will have serious global ramifications. It is to be noted with concern that both the countries spend huge amount on arms, while the expenditure on health and education is comparatively very low.

Dr Arun Mitra –Co President International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) said that the IPPNW is much concerned about the situation in the region and has decided to organize an international seminar in Delhi on 24th and 25th March 2018 so as to highlight the need for nuclear disarmament.

https://www.cityairnews.com/content/doctors-across-international-border-appeal-immediate-dialogue-between-india-and-pakistan

 

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must act and dare the appropiateness and not whatever comes to our mind not floating in the likelihood but grasp the reality as brave as we can be freedom lies in action not in the absence of mind obedience knows the essence of good and satisfies it, freedom dares to act and returns God the ultimate judgment of what is right and what is wrong, Obedience performs blindly but Freedom is wide awake Freedom wants to know why, Obedience has its hands tied, Freedom is inventive obedient man respects God’s commands and by virtu of his Freedom, he creats new commands. Both Obedience and Freedom come true in responsability (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

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