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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on July 2nd, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

from The Century Foundation, New York City  events at tcf.org
July 2, 2015

Egypt’s Next Phase: Sustainable Instability

Senior fellow at The Century Foundation Michael Wahid Hanna describes Egypt’s Next Phase: Sustainable Instability in a new issue brief out today:

“Two years after Egypt’s July 2013 coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi, the country is entering a new and unsettled phase in its ill-fated post–Hosni Mubarak political transition. The air of instability in the run-up to this anniversary was punctuated by the country’s first major political assassination in decades, with the June 29 killing of Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat in a sophisticated bomb attack on his convoy. That attack was quickly followed by a major coordinated militant assault on Egyptian army positions in northern Sinai Peninsula on July 1, which resulted in scores of dead and injured, and further highlighted the growing threats facing the country.

However, while Egypt as a country will continue to suffer various kinds of instability, the regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi remains firmly ensconced for the foreseeable future.”

For the full article please go to:  www.tcf.org/blog/detail/egypts-ne…

Conclusion of the article: Despite unprecedented economic and security challenges and the first signs of serious public dissatisfaction with the Sisi regime, there is no evidence that these complaints will ripen into a challenge to the sustainability of Sisi’s rule. Paradoxically, this sustainability will endure despite the inevitable instability that will be a persistent feature of Egyptian life in the near-term future. Instability is unlikely to translate into serious regime vulnerability so long as the state remains outwardly unified and coherent, which itself is highly likely in an environment when the state and its institutions perceive a collectivized sense of fate. With an irreparably fragmented state of political opposition coming together with other key factors to produce an environment of sustainability, Egypt and the outside world will have to contend with the durability of the Sisi regime and the unlikelihood of a political course correction amidst a deteriorating security situation.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on July 1st, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

From THE AMERICAN IRANIAN COUNCIL
Established in New Jersey in 1997 by Professor Hooshang Amirahmadi of Rutgers University

July 1, 2015

Dear Pincas,

Negotiators representing the P5+1 and Iran announced an extension to the self-imposed June 30 deadline to secure a final nuclear deal. The new date they have set for themselves is July 7. The outstanding issues are, reportedly, the timing of sanctions relief, access to military sites, and access to Iranian nuclear scientists.

The AIC throws its full support behind a fair, diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue that (1) reduces tension between the United States and Iran, (2) lifts sanctions that are contributing to that tension, and (3) further ensures the international community of Iran’s sustained commitment to restrict its nuclear program to peaceful purposes.

We maintain that it is more important that the deal be comprehensive and sustainable than rushed. An expedient deal that fails to address all technical issues will inevitably fall apart, as the parties could walk away with distinct interpretations. It is better to get full clarity now, during the negotiating phase, rather than during the implementation phase.

Despite this one-week extension, tremendous progress has been made since these negotiations began, and that momentum must be seized upon for a comprehensive deal. The framework that the parties agreed to in April 2015 required Iran to make significant concessions, well outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Additional Protocol, in order to provide verification of its nuclear program’s peaceful nature. In return, sanctions imposed by the United Nations, European Union, and United States over Iran’s nuclear program were to be removed. While the timing of sanctions removal has proven to be a sticking point, we remain optimistic that the diplomats can arrive at a negotiated timeline.

Most importantly, a fair nuclear deal would go a long way in reducing the intense mistrust and tension between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran, something for which the American Iranian Council has advocated for over 25 years. This would be a pro-peace paradigm shift in a region embroiled in instability and conflict. It is a goal for which all peace-loving people should advocate. A diplomatic resolution to the nuclear file is one step in that pro-peace direction, and for that reason we fully endorse it.

Sincerely,
The American Iranian Council

=============================================================

Having just announced by USA and Cuba the reestablishment of Embassies in Washington and Havana – this fourth of July weekend is already loaded with important news passed on from the White House to the people of the Americas. The announcement about a solution on the Iranian front can wait because it will have to be scrutinized very attentively.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on June 30th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

By the end of the second day of the Dilma Rousseff mission to the US – it becomes clear that the Brazilian President had the upper hand, and this was about overcoming the repugnant fact that under this US President US agencies spied on the President of Brazil by hacking into her private phones and mail.

For one thing, Brazil wins now the right again to export its beef to the US, and there was also some mention of Brazil-US cooperation on Climate Change — though this was much less at the forefront as we wished to see it.

REUTERS – Politics | Tue Jun 30, 2015 6:30pm EDT

Obama, Rousseff turn page on spy spat, work on trade, travel

WASHINGTON | By Roberta Rampton and Idrees Ali

President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff used a White House visit on Tuesday to turn the page on a spying scandal that had damaged bilateral relations and said they want to work to bolster economic ties.

The presidents agreed to a series of steps to make it easier for people and goods to move between the two countries, including reopening fresh beef trade.


During an hour-long press conference, Rousseff said “things have changed” since October 2013, when she canceled an official state visit after revelations from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the United States had spied on her.

“The change is particularly due to the fact that President Obama and the U.S. government have stated on several occasions that they would no longer engage in intrusive acts of spying on friendly countries. I believe President Obama,” Rousseff said.

Obama greeted Rousseff with a warm hug when she arrived in Washington on Monday, taking her for an impromptu visit to a memorial for civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. before a working dinner.

Obama praised Brazil during Tuesday’s press conference as a “global power” and an “indispensable partner” playing a critical role in addressing climate change with a deal to boost renewable power production.

—————————–


2 years after spying flap, Obama and Brazil’s Rousseff declare end to chapter of tense ties.

Writes US News and World Report of June 30, 2013

The president and visiting Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff sought Tuesday to cast their nations as “natural partners” collaborating closely on critical issues like climate and regional diplomacy, glossing over recent tensions over spying that have strained relations between the U.S. and Brazil.

Associated Press
June 30, 2015 | 4:48 p.m. EDT
+ More

By JOSH LEDERMAN, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two years after revelations about U.S. spying frayed ties between their countries, President Barack Obama and visiting Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff publicly closed that chapter Tuesday, declaring that the relationship between the U.S. and Brazil is on an upward swing.

Rousseff canceled a 2013 visit to Washington in the wake of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden’s disclosures that the U.S. had intercepted her emails and phone calls, and U.S. leaders have been working to repair the damage ever since. On Tuesday, the two leaders were all smiles in the East Room of the White House, trading bets about the 2016 Summer Olympics, to be held in Rio de Janeiro.

“I believe President Obama,” Rousseff said, referring to the U.S. pledge to no longer engage in intrusive spying on friendly nations.

“I trust her completely,” Obama rejoined.

Both leaders acknowledged that the NSA leaks had strained the relationship between two of the hemisphere’s largest powers. Even still, Rousseff said the conditions today are different than they were in 2013, noting that Obama has since told her that should he ever need confidential information about Brazil, he’ll pick up the phone and call her directly.

“Countries do go through crises and difficulties. It’s just natural,” Rousseff said through a translator.

Aiming to move past those difficulties, Obama and Rousseff put a spotlight on areas of growing cooperation between the U.S. and Brazil as she wrapped up her two-day visit to the White House. The leaders touted a recent defense agreement as well as a U.S. decision Monday to begin allowing fresh beef imports from all 14 of Brazil’s states — a longstanding Brazilian request.

Yet the capstone of the attempt to show common cause was a joint announcement on climate change, an issue Rousseff deemed “one of the central challenges of the 21st century.”

Brazil pledged to curb illegal deforestation and expand renewable energy use as it gears up to unveil its contribution to a global climate treaty that Obama has been championing and world leaders expect to finalize this year. Although the announcement stopped short of a commitment to bring deforestation down to zero, as many environmentalists wanted, the pledge offered some of the first signs of how Brazil intends to curb its greenhouse gas emissions as part of the treaty.

The South American nation also vowed to restore and reforest 12 million hectares — an area roughly the size of England — by 2030. About three-quarters of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions come from destruction in the Amazon rainforest, which acts as a giant absorber of carbon dioxide.

Both the U.S. and Brazil announced plans to increase the share of renewable, non-hydropower electricity sources to 20 percent by 2030. That will require tripling the amount of renewable energy on the U.S. electricity grid, while doubling it in Brazil. The White House said it was counting on gains from Obama’s controversial power plant emission rules to meet the new goal.

From its inception on Monday with a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Rousseff’s stay in Washington appeared designed to show that the U.S. and Brazil were no longer saddled by the spying flap that drew headlines and outrage from Brazilian lawmakers in 2013 and 2014.

And after an Oval Office meeting and joint news conference with Obama on Tuesday, Rousseff headed to the State Department for lunch, where she was toasted by Vice President Joe Biden — the point person in the White House’s charm offensive to regain Rousseff’s trust.

Rousseff had been scheduled to be honored with a state dinner in October 2013, an honor meant to demonstrate the growing importance of Latin America’s largest nation and a particular nod to Rousseff, who adopted a friendlier foreign policy toward the U.S. than her predecessor when she took office in 2001.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on June 30th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

News
BASIC Ministers Outline Views on Paris Agreement

28 June 2015: Ministers from the four BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) countries convened for the group’s 20th Ministerial Meeting on Climate Change to discuss: the outcomes of the previous sessions of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP); the upcoming sessions of the ADP; and the elements of the expected Paris Agreement.

The 20th BASIC Ministerial Meeting on Climate Change was held at the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the UN in New York, US, on 27-28 June 2015. In a joint statement issued at the end of the meeting, BASIC Ministers welcome: the convening of the High Level Event on Climate Change by the President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 29 June 2015; the outcome of Lima Climate Change Conference in 2014; and the work of the Peruvian Presidency.

They further: commit to work constructively to ensure a successful outcome at the Paris Climate Change Conference in December 2015; reaffirm that the ADP process and outcome should be guided by, and be in accordance with, the Convention; and express appreciation for the progress achieved in the recent ADP sessions, but stress the need to accelerate the pace of negotiations.

Ministers underscore the need for the Paris Agreement to: address, in a balanced manner, mitigation, adaptation, finance, capacity building, technology development and transfer, transparency of action and support; not solely focus on mitigation; provide a framework for Parties to enhance actions to limit warming to below 2 degree Celsius and enable adaptation; and include comprehensive contributions that will be nationally determined and reflect each Party’s highest possible effort, in accordance with its common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR).

They call for the upcoming ADP negotiations to focus on the core provisions to be included in a protocol, another legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention. They highlight that the streamlined negotiating text being prepared by the ADP Co-Chairs should be concise, including all core elements of the Durban mandate, and that COP decisions should detail the agreement’s provisions, including modalities and technical aspects.

Ministers consider that ambition and effectiveness will be achieved by maintaining differentiation among developed and developing countries in the agreement. They call on developed countries to provide new, additional, predictable, adequate and sustained public support to enhance actions by developing countries, and for the Paris agreement to establish a link between developing countries’ actions and the scale of finance, technology and capacity building support.

On pre-2020 ambition (or workstream 2), they stress that: the pre-2020 ambition gap shall be primarily addressed through the implementation of the 2nd commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and the outcome of the Bali Action Plan; and that developed countries’ current emission reduction, financial and technological commitments are inadequate. They support the call by the G77 and China for the ADP Co-Chairs to prepare an inclusive paper as a starting point for the discussions under Workstream 2 at the next ADP session in August-September 2015.

They express disappointment over the lack of a clear roadmap for developed countries to provide USD 100 billion per year by 2020, as well as on substantially scaling up financial support after 2020. Ministers also underlined that domestic preparations for their respective intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) are at an advanced stage and will reflect their “utmost efforts towards the objective of the Convention.”

The 21st BASIC Ministerial Meeting will be hosted by China in the second semester of 2015. [Joint Statement of BASIC Ministers]

read more: climate-l.iisd.org/news/basic-min…

——————————————————————————

News
UNGA Holds High-Level Event on Climate Change

29 June 2015: “We must act with courage,” UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Sam Kutesa told UN Member States gathered at the High-Level Event on Climate Change he hosted. He called for “bold, collective action” to “reverse the current trends and preserve our planet.” The High-Level Event was convened at the midpoint between the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) to the UNFCCC and COP 21, and aimed to provide political momentum for an ambitious climate agreement.

Held on 29 June 2015, in New York, US, the High-Level Event also featured remarks from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called climate change and sustainable development “two sides of the same coin” that are being addressed by “two mutually reinforcing agendas.”

Also addressing the links between these agendas, Kutesa stressed that 2015 is a critical year, “when the world’s attention is focused on the future,” adding that “a successful outcome at COP 21 will send a resounding message that the well-being of the planet must go hand-in-hand with development efforts.”

Both Ban and Kutesa focused on the building blocks, such as intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) and finance, needed to achieve an ambitious agreement and commended large emitters for coming forward with commitments. Noting some controversial issues remain to be resolved ahead of COP 21, Kutesa said “a successful outcome can be reached if all Parties engage constructively and with flexibility.” Ban reminded that the agreement must not be an “end point,” but rather a “turning point” in how the world collectively acts to address climate change.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres also spoke at the event, asserting that “Never before has it been so evident that we can address both climate change and sustainable development with the same measures,” and urging negotiators to show leadership to “create jobs, ensure energy access, safeguard food and water, improve health and protect economic and social stability for the future.”

After the opening session, two high-level panel discussions were held. The first consisted of two segments, moderated by UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner and Global Commission on the Economy and Climate Chair Felipe Calderón, respectively. It focused on mobilizing political momentum for ambitious actions on mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation (MOI). Panelists discussed: equity; differentiation; renewable energy development; scaling action under current commitments; China’s green development strategy; anti-poverty efforts; transparency; and adequacy of support.

The second panel, on mobilizing stakeholders for ambitious actions on mitigation, adaptation and MOI, addressed the US$100 billion goal, private sector perspectives, land restoration for food security and increased resilience and falling costs of renewables. Green Climate Fund (GCF) Executive Director Héla Cheikhrouhou and Global Environment Facility (GEF) CEO Naoko Ishii spoke on the financing efforts their institutions are undertaking. Cheikhrouhou urged “significant, predictable funding” for the GCF, saying it “can play a key role in driving the transition to climate-resilient and low emission societies.”

Kutesa intends to circulate a President’s summary of the High-Level Event to all Member States and other stakeholders. The event will reconvene for its closing session on 30 June 2015. [High-Level Event on Climate Change Webpage] [UNGA President Opening Statement] [UN Press Release] [UNFCCC Press Release] [UNFCCC Executive Secretary Remarks] [GCF Executive Director Remarks] [UNEP Press Release] [UN Meeting Summary]

read more: climate-l.iisd.org/news/unga-hold…

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on June 30th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Remarks by President Obama and President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil Before Meeting

ATLAPA Convention Center
Panama City, Panama

The White House Press, April 11, 2015

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it is wonderful to be able to meet once again with my good friend, President Rousseff, and her delegation.

PRESIDENT ROUSSEFF: I understand. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: She doesn’t need a translator.

Brazil is obviously not only one of the most important countries in the hemisphere, but is a global leader on a whole range of issues. And so I’m looking forward to this meeting where we can discuss furthering the cooperation that we already have on a whole range of issues, including climate change, energy, educational exchanges, and science and technology.

I’m also very pleased that President Rousseff is going to be able to visit Washington at the end of June, on June 30th, where we’ll be able not only to deepen our discussions, but also put forward some very concrete plans for mutual cooperation in these areas.

So let me just say once again, thank you to President Rousseff for her leadership and her friendship. And I’m looking forward to a very productive meeting.

PRESIDENT ROUSSEFF: (As interpreted.) I would also like to say that, to me, it is of course very important that we, the U.S. and Brazil, be able to ensure continuity of our relations. Brazil and the U.S. have had a very longstanding track record in our bilateral relations, and I think a very solid one.

We have before us a wide array of different topics in the areas that can serve as subjects for further cooperation, not only between the two countries but also throughout Latin America and the world at large. May I quote just one example of an area for fruitful cooperation, such as climate change, which is not only a pressing need but also a much-needed area for joint initiatives in the world at large. Brazil has experienced a very harsh drought. The U.S., in turn, has experienced a very rigorous winter. So the climate change agenda is an illustration, a clean-cut example of where we can cooperate jointly.

Science and technology, education, as well as all manners pertaining to economic growth are just examples of what we can do together to improve and boost the quality of our production activity, which is key for Brazil and which I think will help us elevate our relations to a higher threshold than it is currently today.

I am very much pleased to learn about the upcoming visit on June the 30th in the United States, and do look forward to that occasion.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you, everybody.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on June 30th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

The US and Brazil are about equal in size, in numbers of citizens, in economic potential, and in post colonial history. While the US was dependent on England and became part of an Anglo-American Trans-Atlantic culture, Brazil was dependent on Portugal but did develop its own Southern Hemisphere culture. Today the US is the Global economic leader that is destined to share this space with a rising China – Brazil is the Global sixth largest economy and China is its largest trade partner.

The US and Brazil have clashed on many issues because of US government and industry intrusion in Brazil’s affairs. One result is that Brazil suffers from an oil industry Malaise like the US does – while like the US it could actually make itself independent of the use of oil. Now, Petrobras, has become a source of large problems for the Brazilian President and a damper on the visit of Brazil’s President that came to the US with 11 of her cabinet ministers. Five of them sat on the stage when she summarized yesterday a meeting with potential investors in Brazil’s infrastructure. She then flew to Washington to meet President Obama in a private visit followed today with a joint visit to the Reverend Martin Luther King memorial, and a non-State-Dinner. She then continues to San Francisco for further business meetings.

We expected joint statements in view of the fact that Brazil is a leader on the introduction of Sustainable Development to the lingo of the Environment and Development. This might yet come today after having been hammered out between her Minister of the Environment and the Head of the US EPA. We will deal with this when it comes. As for now – we just bring here published various expectations from different points of view. We would like to see a better alignment of the Obama Administration with this most significant State of the Western Hemisphere.

President Barack Obama talks with President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil as they tour the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D.C., June 29, 2015. (Official White House)

10:15 AM: The President holds a bilateral meeting with President Rousseff; the Vice President will also attend

12:05 PM: The President and President Rousseff hold a joint press conference WATCH LIVE – White House Snapshot for June 30, 2015. We assume this was followed by lunch.

Politics – PBS – Rundown
Obama, Rousseff aim to show they’ve moved past spy scandal.

BY Darlene Superville and Adriana Gomez Licon, Associated Press June 29, 2015 at 12:05 PM EDT

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff meets with business leaders in New York Monday during a visit to the United States.


WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff will aim to show they have smoothed over tensions sparked by a spying scandal, as they open two days of talks at the White House Monday.


The meetings come nearly two years after Rousseff canceled a rare state visit to Washington following revelations that Brazil was a target of American spy programs. The disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden deeply strained relations between the two hemispheric powers.


Rather than rehash the spying controversy, officials from both countries say Obama and Rousseff want to delve into talks on trade, investment and climate change.

“They are putting behind the Edward Snowden affair,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue. “The meeting is to create good atmosphere, a good mood, establish communication and get the relationship back on solid footing.”

Obama and Rousseff will meet for a private dinner Monday evening, and then hold more formal talks and a joint news conference on Tuesday.

The leaders are meeting six months before a United Nations-sponsored conference in Paris in December to finalize a climate treaty. Obama has argued that a gradually warming planet could worsen social tensions and political instability worldwide, in addition to harming the U.S.

Countries are making their positions on climate change clear ahead of the Paris talks. The U.S. already has announced a 2025 deadline to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels.

Brazil, the seventh largest economy, is one of the top emitters that has not presented pollution-control targets. Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira, who is traveling with Rousseff to Washington, has said that developed nations bear more responsibility than the developing world because of their emissions track record.

Brazil’s first female president started her second term in January — Vice President Joe Biden attended her inauguration — but she since has been weighed down by low approval ratings, her country’s poor economic performance and a massive corruption scandal involving Petrobras, a state-owned oil company. Tens of thousands of Brazilians filled streets across the country earlier this year to protest her leadership.

Snowden’s disclosures showed that in addition to spying on Rousseff’s communications, the NSA had hacked the oil company’s computer network. Rousseff served on the company’s board, but has not been implicated in the scandal.


With Brazil bracing for recession, officials are emphasizing the economic agenda for the Obama-Rousseff meeting. The U.S. is Brazil’s second largest trading partner after China, exchanging $62 billion in trade flows.

Carlos Eduardo de Freitas, an economist and former Central Bank executive director, said the White House meeting may invigorate Brazil as it seeks to cut down government spending to avoid being shunned in credit markets. Rousseff is traveling with 11 cabinet members and met with Brazilian businessmen and U.S. investment fund managers and government officials in New York to discuss infrastructure before arriving in Washington.

“The government needs to unshackle its economy,” Freitas said.

The timing of Rousseff’s trip was settled months ago; Obama announced it when the two met on the sidelines of a summit in Panama in April. But for Rousseff, being seen warmly received by an American president coming off one of the best weeks of his time in office could help her back home.

Since Rousseff is not on a state visit, she will not receive a welcome ceremony on the White House South Lawn or be celebrated with the formal State Dinner.

The Wall Street Journal – World – Latin America

Brazil’s President Seeks Investment During U.S. Visit
Business friendly environment is needed to attract investors and restore growth, Rousseff says
By Paulo Trevisani
Updated June 29, 2015 12:01 a.m. ET

NEW YORK—This week’s meeting of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington is expected to be short on splashy announcements, but it could go a long way to healing a breach between the leaders of the hemisphere’s two largest economies.

U.S.-Brazilian relations have been frosty since 2013, when leaked National Security Agency files revealed that the U.S. had spied on Brazil. Ms. Rousseff’s decision…
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Popular on WSJ

REUTERS Commodities | Mon Jun 29, 2015 9:13pm BST

By Daniel Bases

(Reuters) – Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff on Monday drew on her own experience as a political prisoner during the country’s dictatorship to denounce informants in a corruption scandal that has pummeled her popularity.

Rousseff also forcefully denied her campaign had received illegal donations originating from the scandal, which involves kickbacks allegedly paid by construction companies to politicians and former executives at state-run oil firm Petrobras.

Speaking to journalists in New York, Rousseff contrasted her experience in jail in the early 1970s opposing Brazil’s dictatorship with that of informants cooperating with prosecutors investigating the Petrobras scandal.

“I do not respect informants because I know, I was jailed in the dictatorship and they tried to turn me into one,” she said following a speech to investors focused on infrastructure projects. As a young Marxist, Rousseff was jailed, hung upside down and tortured with electric shocks.

Many of the key informants in the Petrobras corruption scandal have turned state’s witness after serving lengthy pre-trial jail terms.

Rousseff spoke after Veja magazine reported on Friday that Ricardo Pessoa, an executive linked to the scandal, had said in plea bargain testimony that part of the money resulting from the overpricing of contracts was donated to the campaigns of several politicians, including for Rousseff’s 2014 re-election.

Pessoa, the head of Brazilian construction firm UTC Engenharia, is under house arrest. He was jailed last year and prosecutors say he may have led the cartel. Veja did not say how it obtained the details of his testimony.

Rousseff has denied knowing about corruption at Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, when she chaired its board from 2003 to 2010, when much of the alleged graft occurred.

The nine prosecutors who brought the case are known as “The Untouchables” in a country where the elite has enjoyed impunity. But defense lawyers have criticized their practice of combining preventive detention and plea bargaining, calling it coercion.

Monday was the first time Rousseff addressed Pessoa’s testimony, though her Communications Minister Edinho Silva said on Friday that 7.5 million reais donated by Pessoa to Rousseff’s 2014 campaign were legal and approved by electoral authorities. Silva was Rousseff’s campaign treasurer.

Rousseff’s chief of staff, Aloizio Mercadante, also denied donations made to him in 2010 by companies owned by Pessoa were linked to kickbacks.

Workers’ Party Treasurer Joao Vaccari was arrested in April and will stand trial for corruption. (Writing by Walter Brandimarte and Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Mary Milliken and Christian Plumb)

———

UPDATE 3-Brazil’s Petrobras slashes spending to cut debt, restore confidence |30 Jun
UPDATE 3-Oil bounces off 3-week lows as Greek debt default looms |30 Jun

———-

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on June 30th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

CHRISTOPHER J. CHANG, PhD
2015 Blavatnik Laureate in Chemistry

University of California, Berkeley

PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
BS/MS, California Institute of Technology

Working at the frontiers of neuroscience and energy research

Chemistry wasn’t Dr. Christopher Chang’s initial major in college. However, his father was a chemist and he always wanted to know “what things were made out of.” He credits undergraduate mentor Dr. Harry Gray with getting him excited about chemistry and energy science. He became even more interested in chemistry benefiting society through his work with PhD and postdoctoral advisors Drs. Daniel Nocera and Stephen Lippard.

Driven by a strong social conscience, Dr. Chang and his lab work in two frontier areas of research. Dr. Chang’s first scientific goal is to identify and understand the roles of all basic chemical elements that are essential to the brain’s functioning. Using new molecular imaging tools, he visualizes chemical reactions involving metal ions and small molecules that help shape such basic processes as memory, cognition and the processing of sensory information, and may also play a role in aging and neurodegenerative diseases. His second goal is to develop technologies for personalized energy, in which people can make what they need in their own households without reliance on the energy grid, to help minimize waste and affect climate change.

“Winning the Blavatnik Award is humbling and exciting at the same time,” says Dr. Chang. “While awards are given to one or a few people, they represent the support of many others who have enabled good things to happen – including students, mentors, colleagues and family. It’s also great to support science and scientists in a public way, as education and technology have long-term benefits for society.”

“Chris Chang has changed the way bioorganic and bioinorganic chemists think about the role of redox active metals and reactive oxygen species in signaling, pathology and physiology in the brain…an emerging field known as metalloneurochemistry. Dr. Chang has overturned existing paradigms by demonstrating that redox active metals (iron, copper, cobalt, molybdenum) can serve in signaling pathways, and that reactive oxygen species such as hydrogen peroxide can be beneficial (not damaging) in stem cell regeneration in the brain.” – Dr. Scott E. Denmark, Reynold C. Fuson Professor of Chemistry, University of Illinois and a member of the 2015 National Jury.

EDWARD F. CHANG, MD
2015 Blavatnik Laureate in Life Sciences

University of California, San Francisco

MD, University of California, San Francisco
BA, Amherst College

Uncovering the neural mechanisms of language processing

Dr. Edward Chang credits his interest in neuroscience to wonderful teachers during his first year of medical school at UCSF, who “opened [his] eyes to the beauty of the nervous system.” These professors were also eminent scientists, and inspired him to take a few years off from his clinical training to work in a research laboratory. By the time he returned to medical school, it was clear that scientific discovery would be inseparable from his mission as a surgeon treating serious neurological disorders.

Since that time, Dr. Chang’s research, which aims to understand the uniqueness of human language and is conducted largely through monitoring brain activity patterns in awake patients during surgery, has made a major impact in a number of fields. These include: systems neuroscience, linguistics, psychology and biomedical engineering. His lab has established the basic “blueprint” of how the brain allows us to speak and hear – recording responses to nearly every speech sound in the English language. Dr. Chang is now beginning to look at brain activity patterns that underlie anxiety and depression, and developing safer and more effective methodologies to map the brain during surgery.

About receiving the Blavatnik Award, Dr. Chang says: “It is so gratifying to be recognized, especially at a relatively early stage in my career. Getting to this point required so much sacrifice and support from my family. In addition, our research requires such a special collaboration with our patients, who volunteer to participate during their surgeries. Sharing this recognition with them gives the experience that much more meaning to what they have contributed.”

“Dr. Chang has accomplished a hugely impressive and exciting body of work in a very short time – just five years since he established his own lab at UCSF. The work is unique and has already transformed our understanding of that most human of behaviors: language and speech.” – Dr. Carla J. Shatz, Sapp Family Provostial Professor, Professor of Biology and Neurobiology, and David Starr Jordan Director, Stanford Bio-X James H. Clark Center and a member of the 2015 National Jury.

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About the Blavatnik Family Foundation

The Blavatnik Family Foundation is an active supporter of leading educational, scientific, cultural, and charitable institutions in the United States, Europe, and throughout the world. The Foundation is headed by Len Blavatnik, an American industrialist and philanthropist. Mr. Blavatnik is the founder and Chairman of Access Industries, a privately-held U.S. industrial group with global interests in natural resources and chemicals, media and telecommunications, emerging technologies, life sciences and real estate. For more detailed information, please visit: www.accessindustries.com

About the New York Academy of Sciences

The New York Academy of Sciences is an independent, not-for-profit organization that since 1817 has been committed to advancing science, technology, and society worldwide. With 22,000 members in 100 countries, the Academy is creating a global community of science for the benefit of humanity. The Academy’s core mission is to advance scientific knowledge, positively impact the major global challenges of society with science-based solutions, and increase the number of scientifically informed individuals in society at large. Please visit us online at www.nyas.org

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NEW YORK, June 30, 2015 – A chemist who has made important discoveries in both the human brain and sustainable energy, a neurosurgeon who has done pioneering work mapping the “blueprint” of how humans speak and hear, and a computer scientist who has changed our understanding of the capacity of wireless networks are the three winners of the 2015 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists.

The Awards, given annually by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and administered by the New York Academy of Sciences, honor the nation’s most exceptional young scientists and engineers, celebrating their extraordinary achievements and recognizing their outstanding promise while providing an unparalleled prize of $250,000 to each National Laureate. The prize is the largest unrestricted cash award given to early career scientists.

This year’s National Laureates all hail from California. They include:

Christopher J. Chang, PhD, Class of 1942 Chair, Professor of Chemistry and Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Christopher Chang is honored for his discoveries in chemistry that span both neuroscience and energy science.
Edward F. Chang, MD, Associate Professor in Residence of Neurological Surgery and Physiology, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Co-Director of the Center for Neural Engineering and Prosthetics, UC Berkeley and UCSF. Dr. Edward Chang is being recognized for his work in establishing the neural code for human language processing.
Syed Jafar, PhD, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of California, Irvine. Dr. Jafar is selected for his discoveries in interference alignment in wireless networks, changing the field’s thinking about how these networks should be designed.

“Our 2015 National Laureates have made incredible discoveries early in their careers,” says Len Blavatnik, Founder and Chairman of Access Industries, head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, and an Academy Board Governor. “On behalf of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, I congratulate the Laureates and the National Finalists and look forward to their future discoveries. This award will help to provide them with the freedom to pursue new ideas and further innovation.”

The three National Laureates were selected from a pool of nominations submitted by 147 of the nation’s leading universities and research institutions, representing 39 states. Each institution was invited to nominate one chemist, one life scientist and one physical scientist or engineer. The names of highly qualified nominees were also submitted by members of the Blavatnik Awards Scientific Advisory Council.

Starting with a pool of 300 nominations of exceptional faculty-rank researchers, the awards jury, composed of some of the world’s most eminent scientists and engineers, conducted a rigorous review. The judges first narrowed down the selection to 32 National Finalists, and then to three National Laureates. The three Laureates and 29 Finalists will be honored at a black-tie ceremony on Monday, September 28, 2015 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

“The nominations we received this year were outstanding. The New York Academy of Sciences is confident that these young scientists will have a major future impact on their respective fields, and beyond,” says Dr. Mercedes Gorre, Executive Director of the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists. “We congratulate the Laureates and the National Finalists on their achievement.”

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THE THIRD 2015 BLAVATNIK LAUREATE IS ALSO FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA – but from Irvine.

SYED A. JAFAR, PhD
2015 Blavatnik Laureate in Physical Sciences & Engineering

University of California, Irvine

PhD, Electrical Engineering, Stanford University
MS, Electrical Engineering, California Institute of Technology

Solving the mysteries of wireless communication

Dr. Syed Jafar became interested in science in high school. “Einstein’s ‘E=mc2’ captured my imagination,” he says. The equation made him wonder about how something so profound can be so simple and beautiful – and it became his lifelong dream to pursue beauty through science. As a graduate student studying information theory at Caltech, he found similar beauty in the formula describing the capacity of an information channel (Shannon’s equation). He realized how much about the capacity of communication networks was still unknown, and that the exploration of this problem would become his life’s work.

Because of the rapid growth of communication networks in the past decade, there is an unprecedented urgency to solving problems in network information theory. The main focus of Dr. Jafar’s research group is to solve as much of the mystery of wireless communication and networks as possible. He has made numerous discoveries in this area, including his groundbreaking discovery of interference alignment in wireless networks. This research demonstrated that data rates in wireless networks are not limited by the number of communications endpoints (nodes) sharing the radio frequency spectrum – a discovery that changed the thinking of the field about how wireless networks should be designed.

“I am incredibly honored to be recognized on the national stage as one of such an amazing cohort of extremely accomplished finalists, and by such an illustrious jury of the nation’s most distinguished scientists,” says Dr. Jafar. “It is my hope that this recognition will lead to broader exposure and appreciation of both the beauty of information theory and the tremendous impact it has on our lives. It is also a ‘shot in the arm’ for me to continue to take on challenging problems in our research group.”

“Syed Jafar revolutionized our understanding of the capacity limits of wireless networks. He demonstrated the astounding result that each user in a wireless network can access half of the spectrum without interference from other users, regardless of how many users are sharing the spectrum. This is a truly remarkable result that has a tremendous impact on both information theory and the design of wireless networks.” – Dr. Paul Horn, Senior Vice Provost for Research, New York University and a member of the 2015 National Jury.

To follow the progress of the Blavatnik Awards, please visit the Awards website  blavatnikawards.org), or follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@BlavatnikAwards). For media requests, please contact Marina Blinova ( mblinova at nyas.org; 212-298-8626).

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on June 29th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Pope Francis’ Message on Climate Change Is Extraordinarily Important

By Robert Reich
Readers Supported News – June 28, 2015


Pope Frances’s message this week on global climate change is extraordinarily important (that it comes out the same week Donald Trump declared his candidacy exposes a human continuum extending from bombast and narcissism to grace and humility). The Pope finds morally deficient an economic system that degrades the environment and worsens inequality; links environmental decline to poverty; attributes it to the growing concentration of greenhouse gases brought on human activity; and rejects the idea that economic growth alone can solve the problem. No Pope in living memory has so poignantly and powerfully cast the problems of inequality and the environment in moral terms that everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic, can understand.

But I wish the Pope hadn’t rejected an important means of reducing carbon in the atmosphere: putting a price on it. By broadly condemning “market forces” the Pope suggests the answer is to give up on the market rather than reorganize it to meet human needs. In this respect he plays into the hands of those who see the fundamental choice as between the “market” and the people, when the real choice is between a market system organized for all people or one organized primarily for the rich.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on June 15th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

The Sunday, June 14, 2015 program started with Fareed retelling us the content of his last Friday’s Washington Post column - www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/s… /9ce1f4f8-1074-11e5-9726-49d6fa26a8c6_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1

While some hysteria-builders in Washington are worried about a Saudi nuclear race to follow Iran, Fareed Zakaria tells us clearly that besides drilling holes to get out oil from the ground, the Saudis have actually not proven capability of doing anything else. They just do not have the people nor the education system that leads to knowledge. You can actually conclude that they are hardly a State in the normal sense of the word – though with them having a full treasury they will not fail easily – but clearly not amount to much power either. In effect they are a natural target for ISIS – so let them not bluff us.

The Saudi GDP is based 44% on oil and 90% of their revenues are from oil. Their puritanical reactionary conservative education system puts them at 73rd place in global ranking compared to the much poorer Iran that is placed 44th. Two out of three people with a job are foreigners – hardly a recommendation for capability of doing anything.

Then Fareed brought on Professor Michael Porter of Harvard who makes now a career of talking and writing about America’s unconventional energy opportunity that turned the till-2005 dependence on gas import and till 2008 dependence on oil import – to an economy now that produces $430 billion/year of oil-shale fracking gas and oil products – that he says have reduced the energy bill of an average American family by $800/year and is now being enhanced by secondary industries like the petrochemical industry.

Gas prices are now lower by one third then those in US trading-countries and he contends that even though there are environmental problems with “fracking” these problems get smaller with time as there are new technological developments leading to decrease in pollution. Oh well – this at least reduces the US dependence on Saudi good-will.

To point out some more the effect of oil on developing countries that export the stuff, Fareed brought on a New Yorker journalist who works now in Luanda, Angola, and previously worked many years in Russia. Michael Specter was fascinating in his description of the “Bizarro” World of Luanda where for four out of the last five years Luanda was the most expensive City for the “Expatriates.” The Fifth year they were second to Japan.

With a watermelon selling for $105, a Coke for $10 and a cab-ride of 20 miles costing $450 – this while the working locals make $4/day while after Nigeria Angola is now the second largest oil producer in Africa.

For a saner discussion Fareed brought on Richard Haass – a former official of the Bush administration, Advisor to Colin Powell and president of the New York City based Council on Foreign Relations since July 2003, and David Rothkopf – who worked for the Clinton Administration, Managed the Kissinger Associates, and now is CEO and Editor of the Foreign Policy Group that publishes Foreign Policy Magazine. Interesting, it was Haass who wore a blue tie and Rothkopf who wore a red tie – and to my surprise, and clearly to their own surprise – there was no difference between their positions on the issues.

The main topic was Iraq and they agreed that sending in some more advisers to keep the ongoing losing policy in place makes no sense and never did. Iraq has passed, or was handed, to Iran while the only functioning part of it are the Kurdish evolving State.

The problem is the Sunni part that will eventually be a State as well – but it depends on a change in US position if this will be the ISIS State or a conventional Sunni State. Trying to hold the three parts of Iraq together does not make sense – period.

Oh well – how we got there – ask the Bush family – now we guess – ask Jeb (John Ellis) Bush. and Fareed also pointed a finger at Senator Rick Santorum who wants to be President and says the Pope should not mix the church and science – leave science to the scientists which for him are the Climate-deniers paid by the oil industry.

Fareed pointed out to Santorum that Pope Franciscus happens to be a scientist. He was trained as chemist and worked as a chemist before reentering the seminarium for clerical studies.

This coming week the world might finally get a boost from the Catholic Church as very well described in the New York Times article by Jim Yardley of June 13, 2015: “Pope Francis to Explore Climate’s Effect on World’s Poor.”

On Thursday June 18, 2015, Pope Franciscus will release his most important Encyclical on the theme of the environment and the poor. This follows a meeting May 2014 of the Pope with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accompanied by his Development lieutenants. This could be finally a joined effort for the good of humanity – of faith and true science.

Above is not completely new. Already the last two popes started to investigate the moral choices of development. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI already wrote about the role of industrial pollution in destroying the environment. Francis went further – and on his January 2015 trip to the Philippines expressed his being convinced that global warming was “most;y” a human-made phenomenon. Now he is expected in the September trip to Cuba and New York, to bring the encyclical to the UN General Assembly and encourage the Heads of States to bring the issue to a positive conclusion at the December Climate Convention meting in Paris. The driving force of this Pope is his experience in Latin America with an agenda of poverty and Unsustainable Consumption that reveals ethical issues. He can be expected to reject the American conservative interests underwritten by oil industry interests that send to his doorsteps folks like Marc Morano and the Heartland Foundation with Republican Skeptics found in the US Senate of James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

Fareed also mentioned on his program the fact that coincidentally it was June 15, 1215 that King John released the First Magna Carta that was shortly thereafter declared “Null and Void for all validity for-ever” by Pope Innocent II. A new Magna Carta was instituted later and it is the 2025 version that is the basis for the Constitutions of many States – including the USA. Pope Francis’s Encyclical might be viewed by future generations as the Magna Carta for the Earth – we hope the term SUSTAINABILITY will be brought into full focus – so ought to be “sustainable development.”

One last issue of this State of the World program was about the dwindling population in all European States and in many Asian States as well. It is only the USA that is growing – this thanks to immigration and some might say energy autarky?. The subject needs more linking to the rest of the program ingredients and we expect this will be done eventually.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on June 1st, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


Energy & Environment
E.P.A. Proposal Will Put Bigger Trucks on a Fuel Diet

By AARON M. KESSLER and CORAL DAVENPORT – MAY 30, 2015

The national emissions lab in Ann Arbor, Mich. Proposals for fuel economy in big trucks are expected to require innovation. Credit Laura McDermott for The New York Times

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Inside the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory here, a mammoth contraption, with steel rollers, advanced electronics and exhaust tubes, is nearing completion.

The project — an enormous “truck treadmill” — is the new centerpiece of the Environmental Protection Agency’s complex. One of the largest vehicle testing centers in the world, the truck lab will play a crucial role in shaping and enforcing a major new environmental mandate by the Obama administration that could dramatically transform America’s trucking industry.

Related Coverage: Jamie Holland and her husband, Jarrod, of Wilmington, N.C., got rid of their older, nonturbocharged cars and replaced them with more fuel efficient turbo models: a BMW for her and a Ford for him.
Wheels: Carmakers Find That Turbos Are a Powerful Path to Fuel EfficiencyFEB. 26, 2015
President Obama announced the development of tough new fuel standards for heavy-duty trucks while in Maryland on Tuesday.
Obama Orders New Efficiency for Big TrucksFEB. 18, 2014

This week, the E.P.A. is expected to propose regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions from heavy-duty trucks, requiring that their fuel economy increase up to 40 percent by 2027, compared with levels in 2010, according to people briefed on the proposal. A tractor-trailer now averages five to six miles a gallon of diesel. The new regulations would seek to raise that average to as much as nine miles a gallon. A truck’s emissions can vary greatly, depending on how much it is carrying.

The hotly debated rules, which cover almost any truck larger than a standard pickup, are the latest in a stack of sweeping climate change policy measures on which President Obama hopes to build his environmental legacy. Already, his administration has proposed rules to cut emissions from power plants and has imposed significantly higher fuel efficiency standards on passenger vehicles.

The truck proposals could cut millions of tons of carbon dioxide pollution while saving millions of barrels of oil. Trucks now account for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles in the United States, even though they make up only 4 percent of traffic, the E.P.A. says.

But the rules will also impose significant burdens on America’s trucking industry — the beating heart of the nation’s economy, hauling food, raw goods and other freight across the country.

It is expected that the new rules will add $12,000 to $14,000 to the manufacturing cost of a new tractor-trailer, although E.P.A. studies estimate that cost will be recouped after 18 months by fuel savings.

Environmental advocates say that without regulation, the contribution of American trucks to global warming will soar.

“Trucking is set to be a bad actor if we don’t do something now,” Jason Mathers, head of the Green Freight program at the Environmental Defense Fund.

But some in the trucking industry are wary.

“I’ll put it this way: We told them what we can do, but they haven’t told us what they plan to do,” said Tony Greszler, vice president for government relations for Volvo Group North America, one of the largest manufacturers of big trucks. “We have concerns with how this will play out.”

The E.P.A., along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, began its initial phase of big truck fuel economy regulation in 2011, and those efforts have been widely seen within the industry as successful. But meeting the initial standards, like using more efficient tires, was not especially difficult by comparison.

The proposed rules will ask much more of the industry. They will require more investment and innovation, like tweaking engines and transmissions, improving aerodynamics and using lighter materials. More disruptive options, like recycling engine heat to drive a secondary turbine, or moving away from diesel itself, are also under consideration. Already, some bigger fleets like that of the United Parcel Service have started outfitting some of their trucks with natural gas.

To win over industry players, regulators say they have made efforts to engage companies up and down the supply chain. They have held hundreds of meetings and have tried to shape their proposal in a way that would help truck-related businesses.

“Fuel is either at the top or near the top of truck operators’ costs,” said Christopher Grundler, director of the E.P.A.’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality. Reducing those costs, he added, was good for business and the environment.

Mr. Obama led the cheerleading for his truck rules. In a speech last year signaling the rules, he said, “Because they haul about 70 percent of all domestic freight — 70 percent of the stuff we use, everything from flat-screen TVs to diapers to produce to you name it — every mile that we gain in fuel efficiency is worth thousands of dollars of savings every year.”

John C. Wall, chief technical officer at Cummins, a leading manufacturer of truck engines, said his company had “tried to engage proactively in the development of the regulations” and had found federal officials to be open-minded about what the company thought could be achieved.

Others in the industry, though, hold a different view.

John Yandell Jr., president of Yandell Truckaway in Pleasant Hill, Calif., said that fuel is the second-highest cost for his family business and that he would love to get better mileage on his fleet, which operates short-haul regional routes. But, he said, he is skeptical that can be achieved in the near future in a way that is affordable for him, if at all.

“Twenty years ago, my trucks were getting five miles per gallon; today they are getting around 6.2 to 6.4,” he said, but getting up to nine or 10 seemed like a pipe dream. “Talk is cheap, but I don’t see how they get there.”

Getting there, however, is a priority for Mr. Obama. The administration also hopes that ambitious government targets can help drive the innovation needed to achieve them. After the 54.5 m.p.g. requirement for cars and light trucks was announced in 2009, a wave of new research and development happened in Detroit, as automakers rushed to develop new hybrid, electric and super-efficient gasoline engines.

The new truck rules are intended to spur the same rush to innovation among the companies that build the 10-ton tractor-trailers that haul things as varied as timber, steel and frozen fish.

But as with any new environmental rules, the details are complicated and will take time to sort out. The public will be asked to comment on the proposed rules before the final version is put in place sometime next year.

Back at the testing lab, the truck treadmill was put through its paces. A semi truck was fastened down with thick chains secured to even thicker steel anchors. A driver started the engine, which roared as the truck sat atop enormous metal rollers that allowed the wheels to spin in place. Orange tubes, intended to collect the exhaust fumes when the formal testing begins, hung from the ceiling.

“This was a hole in the ground before Christmas,” said David Haugen, director of the E.P.A. lab’s testing and advanced technology division. “Now we’re ready to make history.”

Aaron M. Kessler reported from Ann Arbor, Mich., and Coral Davenport from Washington.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 29th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Burlington, Vermont (CNN)It wouldn’t be the first time a revolution sparked in New England changed the world.

But two and a half centuries after the insurrection that birthed America, the idea that a rumpled radical like 73-year-old Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders could overthrow the U.S. economic, health care and tax systems seems farfetched at best.

Yet that’s exactly the task the fiery U.S. senator has set himself in a presidential campaign targeting billionaire “oligarchs” who he says have hijacked America’s economy and inflicted misery on the middle class.

Sanders, an agitator who doesn’t suffer fools, political opponents or journalists gladly, is testing whether the kind of populist, liberal agenda that gave him 75% approval ratings in his adopted home state can catch fire nationwide.

READ: Bernie Sanders’ brotherly love

“Brothers and sisters: Now is not the time for thinking small,” Sanders told thousands of supporters in Burlington on Tuesday.

“Now is not the time for the same-old, same-old establishment politics and stale inside-the-Beltway ideas,” Sanders said in an implicit denunciation of the runaway front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton.

The obstacles Sanders faces in the presidential primary race, however, are immense.

Sanders has no viable countrywide political organization, so he must foment a grassroots uprising. His task is complicated by the fact that although he caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, he has always been a political independent wary of formal party affiliations.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Obama has lost Paul Krugman: Administration’s selling of new trade pact “a snow job.”

There has been no good faith effort to address reasonable concerns from well-intentioned critics
Review by Scott Eric Kaufman, Salon Web-magazine.
 www.salon.com/2015/05/22/obama_ha…

Kaufman writes: In Friday’s column, the New York Times’ Paul Krugman argued that although he generally approves of the forthrightness with which the Obama administration has dealt with economic issues, when it comes to international trade and investment, the president deserves a failing grade.

Especially, he wrote, on the subject of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the quasi-secret deal that the administration has teamed up with Republican Congressman Paul Ryan (W) to push through the House.

“[the] selling of the 12-nation Pacific Rim pact has the feel of a snow job,” he argued. “Officials have evaded the main concerns about the content of a potential deal; they’ve belittled and dismissed the critics; and they’ve made blithe assurances that turn out not to be true.”

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 krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/05…

ALSO: Paul Krugman – New York Times Blog Trade and Trust.

May 17, 2015

I’m getting increasingly unhappy with the way the Obama administration is handling the dispute over TPP. I understand the case for the deal, and while I still lean negative I’m not one of those who believes that it would be an utter disaster.

But the administration — and the president himself — don’t help their position by being dismissive of the complaints and lecturing the critics (Elizabeth Warren in particular) about how they just have no idea what they’re talking about. That would not be a smart strategy even if the administration had its facts completely straight — and it doesn’t. Instead, assurances about what is and isn’t in the deal keep turning out to be untrue. We were assured that the dispute settlement procedure couldn’t be used to force changes in domestic laws; actually, it apparently could. We were told that TPP couldn’t be used to undermine financial reform; again, it appears that it could.

How important are these concerns? It’s hard to judge. But the administration is in effect saying trust us, then repeatedly bobbling questions about the deal in a way that undermines that very trust.

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We have a particular problem here – this with no less then the Great New York Times.

The problem is that in the paper’s greed to make money they hide the important views of Paul Krugman by asking the internet readers to pay subscription money. We know this is a subject for long discussions – but what if a great economist is indeed trying to save the country and the World and a Board that owns a large chunk of media sources just gets in his way?

What if I tell you that the opinion page of that paper, years ago, seemed to be sold to the Mobil Oil Corporation that regularly had a quarter page advertisement that left no interest space for the paper’s business-folks when it came to non-petroleum fuels?

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 27th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

from Elzen, den Michel —  Michel.denElzen at pbl.nl


PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, NewClimate Institute, Ecofys and IIASA have published a report entitled “Enhanced policy scenarios for major emitting countries: Analysis of current and planned climate policies, and selected enhanced mitigation measures”.

This study provides an overview of projected greenhouse gas emissions of 13 major emitting countries up to 2030, taking into account the emission trajectories based on current and planned policies, and selected enhanced mitigation measures that are in line with national priorities.

Some countries are likely to achieve their 2020 pledges through current policies, while others require the effective implementation of planned policies or additional measures.


The policy brief can be downloaded at:

 www.pbl.nl/en/publications/enhanc…

The full report can be downloaded at:
 www.pbl.nl/en/publications/enhanc…

 www.pbl.nl/sites/default/files/cm…

This study, as well as an assessment of the INDCs, will be presented at SB 42:

Preparation and assessment of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs)

Friday, 5 June
18:30—20:00
Bonn III (72)

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PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency

 Michel.denelzen at pbl.nl

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 27th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

IISDRS – Summary & Analysis from the 5th Intergovernmental Negotiation on Post2015 Development Agenda

as per Langston James Goree VI

5th Session of the Post-2015 Intergovernmental Negotiations (Follow-Up and Review)
18-22 May 2015 | UN Headquarters, New York
 www.iisd.ca/post2015/in5/

The fifth session of intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda took place from 18-22 May 2015, at UN Headquarters in New York.

The session, which focused on follow-up and review of the post-2015 development agenda, was led by the Co-Facilitators for the post-2015 process, David Donoghue, Permanent Representative of Ireland, and Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya.

This session marked the last of the “scripted” sessions outlined in UN General Assembly decision A/69/L.46, on modalities for the process of intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda. During the course of the week, delegates discussed: follow-up and review of the post-2015 development agenda; goals, targets and indicators; themes for the interactive dialogues during the Post-2015 Summit in September; and the way forward. An interactive dialogue with Major Groups and other stakeholders took place on Wednesday, 20 May. Delegates adopted the six themes for the interactive dialogues, which will be transmitted to the President of the General Assembly.

During the week, participants discussed what exactly “follow-up and review” entails at the national, regional and global levels. There was much discussion on the role of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development in this regard. There was disagreement on whether there should be technical revisions to the targets, which were approved by the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals in July 2014.

At the end of the week, the Co-Facilitators announced that the zero draft of the outcome document would be circulated on or about 1 June 2015, noting this would provide enough time to delegations to organize preliminary informal consultations before the sixth session of the intergovernmental negotiations begins on 22 June.

The Summary of this meeting is now available in PDF format

at  www.iisd.ca/download/pdf/enb3218e… and in HTML format at
 www.iisd.ca/vol32/enb3218e.html

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A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF THE MEETINGS

The fifth session of the post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations marked the last stocktaking session of the process before the focus turns to the textual negotiations on the post-2015 outcome. Since January 2015, participants have discussed elements of the structure of the post-2015 development agenda, including the declaration, the goals and targets, means of implementation and, at the fifth session, follow-up and review. As delegates await the zero draft of the outcome document, which they were informed would be issued by the Co-Facilitators on or about 1 June, it is clear that some “existential questions” remain regarding the post-2015 development agenda. These questions could be the focus of difficult debates before negotiations conclude in July. This brief analysis reflects on some of these questions, within the context of the fifth session’s discussions on follow-up and review, and examines the way forward, in the context of a complex set of interrelated sustainable development negotiations.

“COMING TO TERMS WITH THE TERMS”

While most delegations shared the view that a well-functioning review framework is essential for the implementation of the SDGs, it was clear that there is not yet agreement on the nomenclature. While most developing countries wanted to maintain the terminology “follow-up and review” in the outcome document, some developed countries preferred to use “monitoring, accountability and review” instead. The phrases have different meanings and implications and many developing countries are concerned that “accountability” could imply conditionality.

The EU, for example, said monitoring, accountability and review are all essential for the implementation of the agenda, and clarified that monitoring is about data and information to provide an assessment of progress, while accountability is about taking ownership, responsibility and ensuring follow-up of commitments. By contrast, the G-77/China stressed the importance of follow-up and review, noting that these terms were used in decision A/69/L.46 on the modalities for the process of intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda, and stating that accountability and monitoring had “no place in the debate.” India argued that it is better to look at this part of the post-2015 agenda as “review and follow-up,” since review should precede follow-up.

It was clear from this that achieving a common understanding on the terminology is necessary before agreeing on any review framework.


“BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR”

By the end of the week, there was some degree of consensus that, at the global level, the HLPF should be the main platform for follow-up and review. However, the issue of whether the review of the post-2015 agenda should take place under a highly centralized structure under the authority of the HLPF or under a network with the HLPF at its core remained, among other questions. As these discussions took place, Co-Facilitator Kamau cautioned delegates to “be careful what you wish for,” noting that there was a level of complexity built into their proposals and that, once their complexity was unpacked, it would be difficult to develop a proposal that would work, especially given the short negotiating time left before the Post-2015 Summit. The G-77/China said the HLPF should be the key forum, to which other mechanisms created to follow up on outcomes of UN conferences and conventions should report in order to eschew unnecessary duplication.

Japan, however, stressed that it is impossible to build a highly centralized structure whereby one single authority would take charge of following up the wide and interlinked agenda. Therefore, Japan and others suggested that the global review structure should have the HLPF at the center, with the widest possible network of existing review mechanisms supporting it. Existing mechanisms, from the World Trade Organization for trade elements, to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee for reviews related to official development assistance, the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation for multi-stakeholder efforts, and existing legally binding agreements for relevant targets were identified as candidates for supporting mechanisms during the discussions, but the nuts and bolts of the reporting relationship with the HLPF and timing for reviews require further examination and discussion.

Another issue that remains to be unpacked is whether the follow-up for the FfD3 and post-2015 processes should take place under an integrated framework or in two separate review mechanisms. The EU and Switzerland, among others, supported developing an overarching monitoring, accountability and review framework for the entire post-2015 agenda, including both the financial and non-financial MOI, and said the FfD3 review process should ultimately feed into the HLPF. The G-77/China, by contrast, argued that the two processes are independent and said, even though they have points in common, they need two different review frameworks. Many agreed that the unpacking of this issue will depend on what is agreed by FfD3 in July.

A key question for the follow-up and review mechanism relates to how the HLPF itself will function. As the Co-Facilitators noted, delegates assigned a multitude of possible tasks to the HLPF during this session, including: keeping track of progress; identifying shortcomings and gaps on the SDGs; making recommendations about what countries should do to stay on track; discussing national and regional reviews; providing a science-policy interface; and addressing emerging issues and challenges. The Co-Facilitators reminded delegations that the HLPF only meets eight days a year, under the auspices of ECOSOC, with three of those days taken up with a ministerial segment. Co-Facilitator Kamau’s suggestion that the HLPF might need to meet twice a year was almost universally rejected, but his idea that some elements could be “offloaded” to other UN bodies that could report back to the Forum generated some interest. Additional proposals related to the HLPF’s functions included calls for the annual HLPF meetings to focus on thematic topics, and for the adoption of a four-year review cycle, where governments could be invited to communicate how they are implementing the SDGs at the national level and what still needs to be done.

In addition to the HLPF, there was also discussion on how other institutions and stakeholders would be involved. On the question of whether regional or global institutions should undertake national reviews, some proposed that country reviews should be done at the regional or sub-regional levels, with the HLPF taking the lead on the global assessment with inputs from the UN Regional Commissions, other relevant stakeholders and international organizations. Others, such as Switzerland and Germany, said the HLPF should review both how countries are doing individually and how the international community is doing globally. Many countries also stressed the importance of stakeholder participation at all levels. The EU, for example, suggested that the UN Global Compact could contribute to the work of the HLPF by preparing assessments of the private sector’s involvement in implementation. Several delegates noted that NGOs, civil society and the private sector also need to be held accountable for implementation of the post-2015 development agenda, especially with regard to MOI. The G-77/China and Egypt said that the follow-up and review process should be determined by national governments and include the participation of all relevant stakeholders in accordance with existing laws and regulations, pointing to another aspect in which further unpacking will be necessary before the follow-up and review framework is adopted.

“WE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PICK AND CHOOSE WHICH GOALS TO IMPLEMENT AND WHICH GOALS NOT TO”

In opening the session, Co-Facilitator Kamau highlighted that, because the SDGs are interrelated, “we will not be able to pick and choose which goals to implement and which goals not to.” This indivisibility of the agenda, due to the integrated nature of the SDGs, implies that one cannot look at a goal without taking into account its relationship with other goals and targets. For example, as a participant noted during the interactive dialogue with Major Groups and other stakeholders, universal health coverage will not be achieved without sanitation, and sanitation will not progress without improvements in education, such as school toilets, which calls for integration and policy coherence. Some participants noted that the same interdependence applies to thematic reviews and proposals to organize the work of the HLPF along thematic lines. If those thematic reviews are to be considered, inter-sectoral linkages as well as horizontal linkages with other multilateral agreements, international organizations, the private sector, governments and other stakeholders will have to be considered to ensure coherence of action.

What will be reviewed does not, however, simply relate to the coherence and inter-linkages between the goals, but also to the targets and indicators under each goal. While the targets were included in the report of the OWG, some said that having undefined numbers?identified by the use of “Xs”?was unacceptable and expressed concern that Heads of State should not adopt a document with “Xs.” However, when the Co-Facilitators distributed a document containing revised targets, there were mixed reactions to the proposal to revise only some of the targets. Some welcomed the revisions so as to ensure that the goals are measurable and aligned with international agreements. Others actually supported leaving the “Xs” in the text since it would allow countries to choose the targets that are best for them. Finally, there were those who expressed concern that this exercise could reopen the SDGs and thus derail the entire post-2015 agreement. The development of indicators by the UNSC will also try to achieve coherence across this indivisible agenda.

“WE CANNOT USE PREVIOUSLY AGREED LANGUAGE IN A DOCUMENT THAT IS LOOKING TOWARDS THE FUTURE”

Based on the discussions during the first five sessions of the intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda, the Co-Facilitators will attempt to put “flesh on the bones” of the document to be adopted in September. However, as several countries noted, the outcome document has to look towards the future, not rely on “stale,” previously agreed UN language. To achieve this objective, delegates will need to unpack previous arrangements and business-as-usual frameworks to understand how 193 countries can individually and jointly pivot to pursue a sustainable development path for the next 15 years. Optimists at the fifth session pointed to the sticking points that emerged from the discussion as evidence that delegates are grappling with the need to change course, although they too wondered how the complexities of interrelated issues and actors could be fully recognized when the process finally puts pen to paper over the next two months.

The zero draft of the outcome document will be the focus of three weeks of negotiations in June and July. The Co-Facilitators have asked delegations to consult within and among their negotiating groups before the sixth session begins on 22 June, and start to build bridges across the chasms on the agenda. Many questions remain about the details of this agenda and the fifth session of the intergovernmental negotiations indicated that there could be a rocky road ahead in reaching agreement on terminology, the follow-up and review process, the role of the HLPF, and any changes to the targets. What is clear, however, is that many want a document that will “connect, inspire and motivate” a global audience, avoid recycling UN language, and look towards the future.

This analysis, taken from the summary issue of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin ©  enb at iisd.org, is written and edited by Pamela Chasek, Ph.D. <pam@iisd.org>, Ana Maria Lebada, Nathalie Risse, and Christine Søby. The Editor is Lynn Wagner, Ph.D. The Director of IISD Reporting Services is Langston James “Kimo” Goree VI <kimo@iisd.org>. The Sustaining Donors of the Bulletin are the European Union, the Government of Switzerland (the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC)), and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. General Support for the Bulletin during 2015 is provided by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, SWAN International, the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Japanese Ministry of Environment (through the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies – IGES), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Funding for translation of the Bulletin into French has been provided by the Government of France, the Wallonia, Québec, and the International Organization of La Francophonie/Institute for Sustainable Development of La Francophonie (IOF/IFDD). The opinions expressed in the Bulletin are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IISD or other donors. Excerpts from the Bulletin may be used in non-commercial publications with appropriate academic citation. For information on the Bulletin, including requests to provide reporting services, contact the Director of IISD Reporting Services at <kimo@iisd.org>, +1-646-536-7556 or 300 East 56th St., 11D, New York, NY 10022 USA.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 25th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Environment
EU Dropped Pesticide Laws Due to U.S. Pressure over TTIP, Documents Reveal.

U.S. trade officials pushed EU to shelve action on endocrine-disrupting chemicals linked to cancer and male infertility to facilitate TTIP free trade deal.

By Arthur Neslen / The Guardian
May 25, 2015

EU moves to regulate hormone-damaging chemicals linked to cancer and male infertility were shelved following pressure from U.S. trade officials over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade deal, newly released documents show.

Draft EU criteria could have banned 31 pesticides containing endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). But these were dumped amid fears of a trade backlash stoked by an aggressive U.S. lobby push, access to information documents obtained by Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Europe show.

On the morning of July 2, 2013, a high-level delegation from the U.S. Mission to Europe and the American Chambers of Commerce (AmCham) visited EU trade officials to insist that the bloc drop its planned criteria for identifying EDCs in favor of a new impact study. By the end of the day, the EU had done so.

Minutes of the meeting show commission officials pleading that “although they want the TTIP to be successful, they would not like to be seen as lowering the EU standards”.

The TTIP is a trade deal being agreed by the EU and U.S. to remove barriers to commerce and promote free trade.

Responding to the EU officials, AmCham representatives “complained about the uselessness of creating categories and thus, lists” of prohibited substances, the minutes show.

The U.S. trade representatives insisted that a risk-based approach be taken to regulation, and “emphasized the need for an impact assessment” instead.

Later that day, the secretary-general of the commission, Catherine Day, sent a letter to the environment department’s director Karl Falkenberg, telling him to stand down the draft criteria.


“We suggest that as other DGs [directorate-generals] have done, you consider making a joint single impact assessment to cover all the proposals,” Day wrote. “We do not think it is necessary to prepare a commission recommendation on the criteria to identify endocrine disrupting substances.”

The result was that legislation planned for 2014 was kicked back until at least 2016, despite estimated health costs of €150bn ($165bn) per year in Europe from endocrine-related illnesses such as IQ loss, obesity and cryptorchidism — a condition affecting the genitals of baby boys.

A month before the meeting, AmCham had warned the EU of “wide-reaching implications” if the draft criteria were approved. The trade body wanted an EU impact study to set looser thresholds for acceptable exposure to endocrines, based on a substance’s potency.

“We are worried to see that this decision, which is the source of many scientific debates, might be taken on political grounds, without first assessing what its impacts will be on the European market,” the chair of AmCham’s environment committee wrote in a letter to the commission.

These could be “dramatic” the letter said.

In a high-level internal note sent to the health commissioner, Tonio Borg, shortly afterwards, his departmental director-general warned that the EU’s endocrines policy “will have substantial impacts for the economy, agriculture and trade”.


The heavily redacted letter, sent a week before the EU’s plans were scrapped continued: “The US, Canada, and Brazil [have] already voiced concerns on the criteria which might lead to important repercussions on trade.”


The series of events was described as “incredible” by the the Green MEP Bas Eickhout. “These documents offer convincing evidence that TTIP not only presents a danger for the future lowering of European standards, but that this is happening as we speak,”
he told the Guardian.

Earlier this year, 64 MEP’s submitted questions to the commission about the delay to EDC classifications, following revelations by the Guardian about the scale of industry lobbying in the run up to their abandonment. Sweden, the European Parliament and European Council have brought court proceedings against the commission for the legislative logjam.

Just weeks before the regulations were dropped there had been a barrage of lobbying from big European firms such as Dupont, Bayer and BASF over EDCs. The chemical industry association Cefic warned that the endocrines issue “could become an issue that impairs the forthcoming EU-US trade negotiations”.

The German chemicals giant BASF also complained that bans on pesticide substances “will restrict the free trade with agricultural products on the global level”.

Around this time, the commission’s more industry-friendly agriculture department weighed into the internal EU debate after being “informed by representatives of the US chemical industry” about it.

A common theme in the lobby missives was the need to set thresholds for safe exposure to endocrines, even though a growing body of scientific results suggests that linear threshold models – in which higher doses create greater effects – do not apply to endocrine disruptors.

“The human endocrine system is regulated by hormones and the hormone receptors are sensitive to low doses,” said Hans Muilerman, PAN Europe’s chemicals coordinator. “In animal toxicity studies, effects are seen from low doses [of endocrines] that disappear with higher ones. But in the regulatory arena, lower doses are not tested for.”

A commission spokesperson insisted that health and environmental concerns would be fully addressed, despite pressure from industry or trade groups.

“The ongoing EU impact assessment procedure is not linked in any way to the TTIP negotiations,” the official said. “The EU will proceed to the adoption of definitive criteria to identify endocrine disruptors, independently from the further course of our TTIP negotiations with the US.”

An EU-TTIP position paper on chemicals published last May, cited endocrine disruptors as as one of the “new and emerging scientific issues” which the EU and the US could consider for “enhanced regulatory cooperations” in a future TTIP deal.

“However, given the fact that a possible future TTIP Agreement will most likely not enter into force before the adoption of definitive EU criteria to identify endocrine disruptors, it is clear that the EU’s ongoing impact assessment and adoption of definitive criteria will not be dealt with in the TTIP negotiations,” the spokesperson said.

———————————
Arthur Neslen is the Europe environment correspondent at the Guardian. He has previously worked for the BBC, the Economist, Al Jazeera, and EurActiv, where his journalism won environmental awards.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 25th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

From The Middle East Forum: Research on the Islamic State

by Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi


various publications
April 1-May 15, 2015

 www.meforum.org/5257/research-isi…

Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a research fellow at Middle East Forum’s Jihad Intel project, is one of world’s leading experts on the Islamic State (IS) group terrorizing Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS. The overwhelming majority of his writings and translations are too detailed or esoteric for distribution to a general audience, so instead MEF compiles periodic updates providing links and summaries for those who wish to follow the groundbreaking work of this prolific researcher.

Is ISIS Islamic? (April 3, 2015)
Jihadology: Jawad al-Tamimi argues that IS documents and publications show respect for the four traditional schools of Sunni jurisprudence and that many of its actions, however heinous, “can find a place within the vastness of Islamic tradition.”

Jamaat Ansar al-Islam: Eulogy to Abu Ahmad of Mosul (April 15, 2015)

Translation and Analysis of a statement from the Sunni jihadist group Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, which was based primarily in Iraq until its disintegration in the wake of last year’s IS advance across the north of the country, with elements of its Syria chapter continuing to operate in a limited capacity. The statement eulogizes Abu Ahmad of Mosul, a leader of the group’s Iraq branch reportedly killed by IS.

Muqawama Suriya Statement: Loss of Jisr al-Shughur (April 26, 2015)

Translation and analysis of a statement by Muqawama Suriya, a pro-Assad militia led by Turkish-born Alawite Ali Kayali. The statement illustrates “growing war weariness among pro-Assad circles” in the wake of recent losses in Idlib province, notes Jawad al-Tamimi, while its emphasis on “popular” and “national” forces “implicitly acknowledges some of the increasing resentment in regime circles that the war effort is too dependent on foreign irregular forces.”

Interview with the leader of Harakat al-Nujaba (April 28, 2015)

Translation and analysis of an interview with Akram al-Ka’abi, the leader of Harakat Hizballah al-Nujaba (The Movement of the Party of God of the Outstanding), or HHN, an Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militia that emerged in 2013, operating both in Iraq and in Syria via multiple front groups. The interview sheds light on several aspects of HHN, notably its open identification with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and ties with the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah movement.

“We have the Swords”- IS nasheed (May 2)

Translation of a musical chant (nasheed), produced by IS’s Ajnad Media Foundation. One of the “darker” nasheeds, according to Jawad al-Tamimi, with lyrics such as “we sever off heads by the strike of the sword.”

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 25th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

from:  Democrats.com is the oldest online community of progressive activists, with over 2 million
supporters. We fight for jobs, justice, healthcare, education, the environment, and peace.
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Dear PINCAS,

On Memorial Day, we honor all the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we hold dear. One of our precious freedoms is enshrined in the 4th Amendment, which requires the government to get a specific warrant before searching our “persons, houses, papers, and effects.” The NSA has been violating the 4th Amendment since George W. Bush let them collect the phone calls, texts, and emails of nearly every American.

A federal court recently ruled that the NSA’s program for spying on nearly all domestic phone calls is illegal.1

But the USA ‘FREEDOM’ Act that the House recently passed would reauthorize the PATRIOT Act and risk creating a new legal authority for some of the very same surveillance practices that the court ruled are illegal.

Please join over 122,000 CREDO activists who already signed the petition against reauthorizing Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act via the USA FREEDOM Act.

Thanks for all you do!

Bob Fertik

————————

Tell Congress: Don’t reauthorize the PATRIOT Act

Tell Congress:
“Oppose the USA FREEDOM Act, which would reauthorize the worst sections of the PATRIOT Act, fail to end mass surveillance, legalize currently illegal surveillance activities, and grant immunity to corporations that collaborate to violate privacy rights.”

Dear Friend,

It’s been almost two years since Edward Snowden brought public attention to the breathtaking scope of President Obama’s indiscriminate spying on American citizens. And now there are identical bills in the House and the Senate that could effectively reauthorize the PATRIOT Act without fixing the worst constitutional abuses by the NSA.1

We can’t let Congress effectively reauthorize the PATRIOT Act for an additional 4 years, legalize currently illegal surveillance activities, and grant immunity to corporations that collaborate to violate privacy rights.

But that’s exactly what the deceptively-named USA FREEDOM Act would do. That’s why groups like CREDO, PCCC and Demand Progress are joining with whistleblowers like William Binney, Kirk Wiebe and Thomas Drake to oppose reauthorization of PATRIOT Act Section 215 via the USA Freedom Act. 2

Tell Congress: Oppose the USA FREEDOM Act, which would reauthorize the PATRIOT Act. Click here to sign the petition.

If Congress does nothing, dangerous sections of the PATRIOT Act will expire, including Section 215, which has been exploited by the government to conduct unconstitutional warrantless mass surveillance on Americans’ accused of no crimes.

Under incredible public pressure, the White House and surveillance agencies have telegraphed acquiescence to minimal reforms in exchange for extension of Section 215. These minimal reforms are a trojan horse, and the legislation proposed would eviscerate numerous court challenges to lawless surveillance and provide for legal immunization and compensation of companies that provide the government with customers’ private information, even where that company knows it is unlawful.

Civil liberties advocates have tried to make the bill better but it appears to be beyond fixing. The House Judiciary committee failed to pass amendments to fix the bill. And it will almost certainly get worse in the Senate.

The USA FREEDOM Act as written has significant potential to make the current status quo for unconstitutional surveillance worse, not better. This is unacceptable. The modest changes within this bill fail to truly reform mass surveillance, of Americans and others, conducted under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 and Executive Order 12333.

Like they have repeatedly in the past, the NSA and other intelligence agencies will do everything in their power to evade the modest restrictions in the USA FREEDOM Act and torture the English language to find justifications for ever more-expansive surveillance. That’s exactly what the NSA did with Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to justify its telephone records dragnet.

And because Congressional leadership and the House and Senate Intelligence committees are totally unable or unwilling to provide meaningful oversight of our spy agencies, we won’t even find out about the NSA’s new schemes until another whistleblower surfaces in 10 or 20 years.

At best, even if faithfully implemented, the current bill will erect limited barriers to only one of three known legal justifications for the unconstitutional, dragnet surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers. Given intelligence agencies’ eagerness to subvert any attempts by Congress to rein in massive surveillance programs by changing the legal authorities under which they operate, the modest, proposed changes are no reform at all.

Tell Congress: Oppose the USA FREEDOM Act, which would reauthorize the PATRIOT Act. Click here to sign the petition.

CREDO supports Reps. Mark Pocan and Thomas Massie and their Surveillance State Repeal Act. A true reform bill it would fully repeal the PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act, and Executive Order 12333 — all of which are used to justify mass surveillance against Americans — and create important protections for whistleblowers.

And even if that important bill were passed, more would need to be done to create real accountability for the NSA, the FBI, the CIA and other secret intelligence agencies that routinely violate our civil liberties.

If Congress can’t pass the Surveillance State Repeal Act, it should simply allow the worst parts of the PATRIOT Act to expire. Passing the USA FREEDOM Act would fail to stop mass surveillance and would send America’s secret intelligence agencies a clear message that they will never face accountability for breaking the law to spy on Americans. What’s more it would allow pro-surveillance members of Congress to blunt momentum for further reform by claiming that they’d fixed the problem, even though the bill only moderately restricts one of several laws abused by the government to spy on Americans.

We have to act quickly. With the PATRIOT Act provisions set to expire on June 1, this fight will move very quickly. Please take action today. Click the link below to sign the petition:
 act.credoaction.com/sign/usa_free…

Thank you for taking action.

Becky Bond, Political Director
CREDO Action from Working Assets

———
1. David Kravets, ” The good, bad, and the ugly of pending congressional surveillance bills,” Ars Technica, April 29, 2015.
2. Steven Nelson, “NSA Whistleblowers Oppose Freedom Act, Endorse Long-Shot Bill,” U.S. News & World Report, April 27, 2015

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 25th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Shavuot & Pentacost: Jewish and Christian versions of revelation plus Arthur Waskow on Memorial Day – as posted by Tikkun Magazine.

To read online the articles below on Shavuot, (the Jewish celebration of the first fruits and also of the giving of Torah), and on Christian spiritual responses to Pentecost, please go to www.tikkun.org/nextgen/shavuot-re…

 magazine at tikkun.org

For a take by a Catholic source on the link between Shavuot and the Christian meaning of Pentecost, both of which are taking place this weekend, please go to:http://www.cruxnow.com/faith/2015/05/22/the-gifts-of-pentecost-and-shavuot


Shavuot wisdom from Arthur Waskow: Ten Notes on Celebrating Shavuot.


Dear friends, Shavuot, the “Festival of Weeks,” comes this year from Saturday night May 23 through Monday evening May 25.
Its name refers to the “super-week” of seven weeks after Passover plus one day (7 x 7 + 1= 50), when the 50th day becomes the holy day of late spring.


Here are ten steps into understanding Shavuot (and its Christian offshoot, Pentecost):

1. The Torah describes a festival that celebrates the fulfillment of the spring wheat harvest by offering at the Temple two loaves of leavened bread and the First Fruits of the farmers’ work and the land’s abundance. This ancient understanding invites us to renew our connection with the Earth as a sacred connection with YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Interbreath of life that connects all life upon this planet.

2. The text of Torah never gives any precise date for the Revelation of Torah on Mount Sinai. The early Rabbis, bereft of the Land and strongly desiring that all future generations be able to experience the Torah in much the same way Passover made it possible for all future generations to experience the Exodus, interpreted Torah timing to make the biblical Festival of First Fruits into a festival of Torah.

Some Rabbinic interpretations of the Torah text then defined Revelation in radically open ways. Some suggested that the only expression that actually came forth at Sinai was the first letter of the Ten Utterances: an ALEPH. But the ALEPH is a “silent” letter, just an opening of the throat. So in that understanding, the deepest Truth was simply that the Universe opened its throat, wanting to speak.

3. In another view, the whole Revelation was the first word:ANOKHI, the Hebrew for an elevated, surpassingly awesome meaning of “I.” (The ordinary Hebrew word for “I,” like the Latin “ego,” is “Ani.”) This ANOKHI arises not only from the Mountain, from the universe, but also from each one of us, each human, each frog, each galaxy, each quark.

4. In the treasury of so-called “Gnostic” ancient texts written in the Semitic language Coptic and found in our own generation hidden at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, one was labeled The Thunder: Perfect Mind.

Most of its 60-some verses begin with the same “ANOKHI, I” and they are almost all celebrations of a female, feminine, and paradoxically all-inclusive understanding of God:

I [Anokhi] am the first and the last

I am what everyone can hear and no one can say

I am the name of the sound and the sound of the name

I am she who is honored and she who is mocked

I am the whore and the holy woman

I am the wife and the virgin

I am the mother and the daughter

I am the limbs of my mother

I am the sterile woman and she has many children

I am she whose wedding is extravagant and I didn’t have a husband

I am the midwife and she who hasn’t given birth

I believe this text, like that in our officially accepted Torah, is an attempt to describe the Holy ONE Who became audible and visible in a transcendent moment at “Sinai.” Its title evokes The Thunder that Torah says was seen, not only heard, at Sinai. For the full text and the story of its recovery, see [ theshalomcenter.org/sites/all/mo... /url.php?u=10464&qid=5267360 ]

5. In one of the Ten Utterances that come from Sinai, the Holy Voice insists that we not “take My Name in emptiness.” I do not think that means never to say “Oh My God!” etc. I think it means to keep fully in mind that the Name YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh is a Breath; that we should always be aware that every breath we take is the Name of God; and that the Breathing of our Mother Earth is the Name of God. “Do not breathe empty-minded, empty-hearted!” says the Voice.

Make a Shavuot practice of following your breath as it enters your body, is carried by your blood to every limb and organ, then leaves as you breathe out the CO2 to enter a tree, a field of grass — and there to be transmuted into oxygen and breathed out, for us to breathe in. As you breathe, let your breath carry these words: “We breathe in what the trees breathe out, the trees breathe in what we breathe out.”

6. Another of the Ten Utterances tells us, “Do not carve out false gods and worship them!”

I do not think this means only that we must not carve out and worship physical statues of stone or wood or metal.

I think it means, “Do not carve the One Flow into pieces and worship these mere pieces of Truth. Do not make gods of race or of nation, gods of wealth and of power, gods of greed and addiction. For these ‘gods’ may seem to have ears but hear not, hands but touch not, noses but breathe not. These idols are dead, and those who make them and worship them will bring death on themselves.”

7. Traditionally, the Haftarah (prophetic passage) that is read on the festival of Shavuot is Ezekiel’s mystical vision of the Chariot. Jerome Rothenberg and Harris Lenowitz, in A Big Jewish Book, their amazing collection of the poetic, mystical, and subversive or superversive passages of Jewish wisdom over the past 3,000 years, make their own poetic translation of this passage.

For a way of reading it intended to lift the reader closer to Ezekiel’s own ecstatic state, first see

and then theshalomcenter.org/sites/all/mo... ]

8. The early rabbis also decided that on Shavuot, we should also read the Scroll of Ruth. It celebrates the earthiness of the Torah’s understanding of Shavuot, and especially the Torah’s commitment to social justice in sharing the abundance of the Earth. Ruth, a penniless woman from a pariah community, is treated with love, generosity, and justice.

Read the book, imagining Ruth as a penniless woman from Guatemala trying to enter the USA across the Rio Grande. How would she be treated today? How does the Bible demand she be treated?

9. According to Christian tradition, there was a Shavuot on which Jews who were followers of the radical Rabbi Jesus — who had been tortured to death because he organized spiritually rooted opposition to the oppressive Roman Empire and its local puppet government — gathered to celebrate the Revelation of Torah.

They experienced being touched by the Ruach HaKodesh – the Holy Breathing Spirit. As if that Breath had spoken to them in every human language (as only Breath can do, since only Breathing encompasses all tongues), they found themselves able to speak in the 70 tongues of humanity.

In Christian tradition, this moment became known as Pentecost, from the Greek word for “Fiftieth Day.” From this moment they went forth to bring their vision to all peoples – sometimes by speaking words of conscience and sometimes by conquest, torture, and death.. From this moment stems all the spiritual triumphs and spiritual disasters of the Christian Church.

How do we make sure that the Holy BREATH is about speaking, not killing or torturing or conquering?

Christians have no monopoly on oppression, torture, or killing. Some Muslims, some Jews, some Buddhists (see Burma and Sri Lanka) have turned to tyranny, out of fear or privilege or fury. For a Jewish perspective on how the festival of Sinai and Torah might look upon the festival of Israeli independence, Yom HaAtzma’ut, see my essay at

10. Go back to experience again two lines from “The Thunder: Perfect Mind,” as what the “I” of Sinai spoke to us all:

I am what everyone can hear and no one can say

I am the name of the sound and the sound of the name

These lines bring us back to the “Anokhi YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh,” the first words of Torah heard at Sinai.

For if the YHWH is a Breathing, It would indeed be what everyone can hear and no one can say.

Its letters, if we try to pronounce them, would indeed be the name of the sound and the sound of the name. A Breath.

The Voice at Sinai tells us: The Interbreathing of all tongues, all life, is what frees us from the Tight and Narrow Place (in Hebrew, Mitzrayyim — the name for Egypt).

If we hear Her in the all-night Torah-learning that the mystics bequeathed us for Shavuot, could we learn to think, to feel, to commune, to be silent in a different way?

Could we hear the Shavuot of Harvest and the Shavuot of Sinai as One:

“I am the earthy food that goes into your mouth, and I am the airy words that come forth from your mouth.”

Could The Thunder teach us that Earth and Torah are one, The One?

Could we hear the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Breath that interbreathes all tongues, all languages, all life-forms, reminding us to Hush’sh’sh’sh, to Sh’sh’sh’sh’ma – to Listen to the still “silent” Voice and cease from our oppressions of each other?

May the Shabbat and Shavuot that come at this week’s ending and next week’s beginning help us achieve these deepening of Spirit in the body!

Shalom, salaam, peace, Earth!
Arthur Waskow

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 23rd, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

From pro-American to pro-Russian? Nikola Gruevski as a political chameleon.
Vassilis Petsinis, 22 May 2015, openDemocracy, London

A former staunch ally of the US-led War on Terror, Macedonia PM Nikola Gruevski has gradually turned his country away from the west towards Russia – all the while keeping his neoconservative ideology intact.

Following the unrest in Kumanovo and the massive anti-government protests, FYR Macedonia has captivated the interest of the international press. The most recent mobilization has been the peak of a wave of discontent that commenced with the countrywide student protests some weeks ago. In the domestic front, opposition circles have issued a series of charges against the government led by the conservative VMRO-DPMNE such as: promotion of nepotism, unwillingness to combat corruption, illegitimate surveillance of political opponents and, on top of all, growing authoritarianism.

Meanwhile, political analysts have detected a certain rift in the relations between Skopje and the West which has resulted in the Macedonian government’s more decisive reorientation towards Moscow.

Russia has pledged its political support to Nikola Gruevski’s and the two sides have extended their cooperation in energy issues and other areas of economic concern. Without neglecting the crucial impact of shifting geopolitics, this brief piece mostly concentrates on VMRO-DPMNE’s, predominantly, neoconservative agenda under the leadership of Nikola Gruevski. It also sets in a comparative context how this neoconservative platform has remained intact despite the gradual readjustment of the state’s foreign policy from Euro-Atlantic institutions towards Moscow’s orbit of influence.

From one neocon to another:

In 2003, Nikola Gruevski succeeded Ljub?o Georgievski in the party’s leadership. An ambitious young politician back then, Gruevski’s main ambition was to centralize decision-making within VMRO-DPMNE and modernize the party’s structures.

The latter objective was achieved via the recruitment of a younger pool of cadres. Following a widespread trend all over Southeast Europe (e.g. Albania’s Edi Rama and Serbia’s Vuk Jeremi?), the party’s central committee and later the Cabinet of Ministers consisted of young, aspiring and, often, Western-educated individuals (e.g. the Foreign Minister between 2006 and 2011, Antonio Milošoski). Moreover, Gruevski maintained the central aspects of Georgievski’s strategy of rapprochement vis-à-vis the ethnic Albanian community.

Despite this, Gruevski’s term in office has been marked by the emphatic endorsement of Neo-Macedonism to the detriment of the modernist narratives over the Macedonian ethno-genesis in the nineteenth century. The adoption of Neo-Macedonism became further institutionalized through the endorsement of grandiose architectural projects, largely inspired by classical antiquity, which commenced in 2010.

On the domestic front, the Socialists/SDSM and other opposition circles accused the government of investing a disproportional percentage of the state’s budget on these projects. In foreign policy, the emphasis on Neo-Macedonism further complicated relations with the southern neighbour, Greece.

Since the early days of Nikola Gruevski’s term in office, the ‘new’ VMRO-DPMNE drew inspiration from the rather influential trend of neoconservatism among policymaking circles in the US. As it was the case with various other statesmen in Central and Southeast Europe (e.g. Romania’s Traian B?sescu), Nikola Gruevski underlined his firm commitment to Euro-Atlantic institutions and opted for the rapid liberalization of the economy along post-Keynesian lines.

Meanwhile, Gruevski constantly stressed his deep faith in God and highlighted the significance of Eastern Orthodoxy and its system of moral values as a fundamental pillar of the state’s identity. In the field of foreign policy, Nikola Gruevski soon emerged as a staunch supporter of George W. Bush’s policy-doctrine on the Middle East. Throughout the 2000s, FYR Macedonia had dispatched military personnel to Afghanistan and Iraq under the auspices of the US-led ‘Coalition of the Willing’.

The NATO summit in Bucharest (April 2-4, 2008) was a landmark. As a gesture of gratitude to its small Balkan ally, the US delegation elaborated possible ways to include FYR Macedonia in the NATO enlargement round irrespective of the state’s dispute with Greece. However, the Greek PM, Kostas Karamanlis, vetoed this proposal on the basis that any outstanding issues with the northern neighbour must be previously resolved in order for Greece to grant its assent.

The Greek veto was met with discontent in Washington and infuriated Skopje. Especially in the light of Karamanlis’ opening to Russia, Skopje-based policymakers and think-tanks did not simply charge Athens with ‘parochial and introverted nationalism’. They went a step further and accused Greece of acting as a ‘Trojan horse’ in Moscow’s service with the aim to destabilize NATO and sabotage its enlargement in Southeast Europe.

The pendulum shifts: Fluctuating geopolitics and disillusionment with the West

Barack Obama, who succeeded G.W. Bush to the US Presidency in 2009, watered down various aspects of his predecessor’s ‘hawkish’ foreign policy. Instead, the new administration in the White House opted for a doctrine of appeasement in regards to their regional competitors (e.g. Russia and Iran).

Meanwhile, the simultaneous advent of the economic crisis made European policymakers more introverted and reluctant to the prospects of the EU’s wider enlargement. With specific regard to FYR Macedonia, European policymakers and political analysts soon stroke a critical stance towards Nikola Gruevski and his apparatus. The main areas of concern were symptoms of nepotism and authoritarianism as well as accusations over the relentless propagation of ‘ethno-kitsch’.

This shifting landscape in global and regional politics had direct ramifications on the government circles in Skopje. Several commentators have argued that delaying the state’s accession to Euro-Atlantic institutions runs detrimental to FYR Macedonia’s stateness and it is largely to account for Skopje’s disillusionment with the West. From a more ‘ideological’ angle, though, the change of guard in the White House and the subsequent adoption of a new US foreign policy doctrine are not to be overlooked either.

In other words, Nikola Gruevski’s government has lost much of the patronage that it enjoyed during George W. Bush’s tenure in office. Moreover, we are currently experiencing the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world order. The last few years have witnessed the consolidation of semi-authoritarian models of governance among emerging regional actors (e.g. Recep Tayyip Erdo?an in Turkey and Vladimir Putin in Russia). The latter development has encouraged the, if only subtle, admiration of certain statesmen throughout Central and Southeast Europe towards the above-mentioned models.

For instance, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán recently coined the concept of illiberal democracy. According to the Hungarian PM, ‘it is not an imperative that contemporary democracy must be structured along the ideological frame of Liberalism…there can be numerous other models of democracy in Europe, nowadays’. Moreover, Viktor Orbán has also positioned Hungary’s foreign policy more solidly within Russia’s orbit of influence.

In particular, both FIDESZ and VMRO-DPMNE converge along a common axis. Both are post-Communist parties that commenced their engagement in politics as, anti-establishment, umbrella-initiatives that hosted a wide range of conservative as well as liberal standpoints. However, in the long run, local adaptations of neoconservatism evolved into the dominant intra-party trend.

Nikola Gruevski and/or Viktor Orbán are not merely unhappy with the outlook(s) of Euro-Atlantic institutions on their respective states or the way(s) that their rule has been portrayed in the Western press. They have also isolated specific elements in Vladimir Putin’s leadership which they deem rather akin to their brand(s) of neoconservatism. These are, namely, Russia’s leader-centred and strong government, the promotion of national and Christian values, and the safeguarding of ‘naturally ascribed’ gender-roles.

Especially in the light of a multipolar international system, one might contend that the neoconservative, ideological, core in parties such as VMRO-DPMNE and/or FIDESZ has remained intact despite the, apparent, foreign policy readjustment towards Moscow.
What next? Skopje amidst political polarization and fears of ethnic radicalization

In addition to the decline of popular confidence, the government in Skopje may also have to face the challenge of resurgent ethnic radicalization. During the last couple of weeks, a militant group, allegedly consisting of ethnic Albanians, became active in the northern town of Kumanovo. The apparent resurgence of militant Albanian ethno-nationalism triggered a series of conspiracy theories.

Pro-government circles have hinted at the involvement of ‘foreign decision-making centres’ who are not particularly content with the bilateral cooperation between Russia and FYR Macedonia. In the other end of the spectrum, opposition circles have suspected the government of engineering the Kumanovo troubles in an attempt to play the card of ‘national unity’ as a last resort. A third assumption that has not been examined to an adequate extent is the possibility of a peculiar, yet amorphous, blend between Albanian ethno-nationalism and elements of Islamic fundamentalism along the lines of the ‘Chechen precedent’.

Russia, on its part, has been quick to point the finger for both the Kumanovo incidents and the anti-government mobilization at the West. The US and the EU have been accused of orchestrating one more ‘Maidan-style’ coup with the aim to destabilize the government and obstruct cooperation with Russia in energy issues.

Russia Today and other pro-Kremlin media outlets dedicated considerable time to the coverage of pro-government demonstrations where Russian flags also featured among the crowd. Quite a few Western political analysts have expressed the wishful thinking that Nikola Gruevski may be forced to resign under popular pressure and be replaced by a coalition government with a Euro-Atlantic orientation.

Setting regional geopolitics aside, Nikola Gruevski’s opening to Russia reveals an additional pathology of Post-communist politics. Even back at the time when parties such as VMRO-DPMNE and FIDESZ had adjusted their foreign policy more firmly towards the West, their political activity and decision-making had been shaped by local adaptations of the neoconservative narrative. Within the context of their political development, such parties replaced their admiration for certain aspects of American neoconservatism with the endorsement of selected elements found in Vladimir Putin’s semi-authoritarianism while their (neoconservative) ideological core remained intact.

Apart from nominally right-wing parties, centre-left statesmen in the region have also detected, albeit more subtly, some ‘positive’ aspects in Vladimir Putin’s pattern of governance (e.g. the Bulgarian Socialist Party/BSP and Slovakia’s SMER). Therefore, in order to grasp such chameleonic mutations more adequately, one should also pay close attention to political culture among post-Communist parties in Central and Southeast Europe and its evolution.

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Dr Vassilis Petsinis is a Visiting Researcher at the Herder Institute (Marburg, Germany). His main areas of specialization are European Politics and Ethnopolitics with a regional focus on Central and Southeast Europe. His academia.edu profile can be found here.

WE SUGGEST TO THINK ALSO THROUGH THE ELECTION RESULTS IN THE UK WHEN READING ABOVE ARTICLE – THIS SO THAT THE MAKINGS OF A EUROPEAN UNION ARE CONSIDERED WHEN LOOKING AT CENTRIPETAL MOVEMENTS LIKE THOSE APPEARING IN CENTRAL AND SOUTH EASTERN EUROPE.
ALSO, PLEASE DP NOT FORGET THE GREECE/MACEDONIA NAME DISPUTE AND EUROPE’S INCAPABILITY TO TELL THE GREEKS OFF IN THIS MATTER. WHAT A SHAME!

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Macedonia

Related Articles: The deep roots of Macedonia’s current turmoil – and the way forward – Heather Grabbe -the same source.


The deep roots of Macedonia’s current turmoil – and the way forward.

Heather Grabbe 13 May 2015, openDemocracy, London

The country must avoid just replacing the driver in the seat of a captured state machinery – by increasing inclusion and pluralism in governance. This will be impossible without EU and NATO assistance.

For nearly two decades, Macedonia has been a pressure cooker of public anger at corruption, deteriorating governance and chronic unemployment. Now the valve has blown. This year, union-organised strikes were followed by student protests against flawed education reforms. Then the opposition party released recordings of conversations that exposed government wire-tapping of more than 20,000 citizens. Quickly dubbed “bombs”, these recordings were released over the last three months by the main opposition party leader at press conferences. On them appear the voices of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, senior officials, journalists, judges and security officials conspiring in electoral and judicial fraud, and organising systemic corruption. On the latest, released on 4 May, the prime minister discusses with interior ministry officials a cover-up of the murder in June 2011 by one of his bodyguards of 21-year old Martin Neshkovski, a student who supported the ruling party.

These revelations have led to a new wave of protests, led by grassroots networks of civil society rather than the opposition party. The young activists have become more radical in their demands under sustained attacks by riot police and government infiltrators, who provoked the protestors for five nights in a row. Last Friday, they pledged to come back to demand the resignation of the prime minister. Then the population awoke on Saturday morning to news of what the government called a “terrorist attack” in an ethnically mixed neighbourhood in Kumanovo, a town near the Serbia/Kosovo border. The results were the deaths of police officers and arrests of alleged terrorists. The government-controlled media called for unquestioning support for the government, and labelled as a traitor anyone who disputed the official interpretation of events. What is going on? Is this a security crisis or a consolidation of power by the ruling party in the face of mounting opposition?

High stakes – but for security or politics?

The shootings in Kumanovo have woken up the rest of the world because they are reminiscent of the security crisis fifteen years ago, when ethnic Albanians took to the hills with their guns to demand rights, representation and jobs. The country narrowly escaped a full-blown civil war thanks to the Ohrid Agreement, which gave the Albanians greater political and economic inclusion, including quotas for public-sector jobs and parliamentary seats.

It was NATO and the EU that took responsibility for Macedonia’s security in 2001, with Javier Solana, as EU High Representative for Foreign Policy at the time, and George Robertson, then NATO Secretary-General, as the main negotiators at Ohrid. But the current crisis is not primarily driven by ethnic tensions. The security framing by the government obscures a much deeper crisis in the body politic, and a looming one for the economy.

After 24 years of independence, Macedonia’s model is crumbling. The ruling party has held onto power by controlling the state and media, and borrowing on international markets to keep the economy going. This has undermined the country’s fragile democracy – despite the promises made at Ohrid, which are still not fully implemented – and failed to build rule of law and a sustainable economy. Prime Minister Gruevski won power nearly a decade ago on promises of clean government and economic development. But he then perfected the system of clientelism and state capture begun by Branko Crvenkovski, his predecessor as opposition leader and prime minister, and later president. Gruevski has used snap elections twice to keep his party in power, and his leadership has become increasingly coercive. The wiretap recordings have confirmed that his VMRO-DPMNE party has captured all vital areas of the economy and established complete control over media, even imprisoning critical journalists. Macedonia’s ranking has fallen from 36 to 136 in the freedom of media index produced by Reporters Without Borders.

The government dispensed with parliamentary debate at the end of 2013. Faced with a short deadline to approve the next loan to pay pensions before the Christmas and New Year holidays, they forcibly expelled the opposition and media from the parliament during a debate over the state budget rather than find an agreement.

The public is scared. More than half of Macedonians believe they cannot freely express their opinions. A staggering 81 percent believe that fear of consequences for them and their families prevent them and others from speaking out. Their political fears are heightened by their economic vulnerability.

The chronic economic malaise underlying acute political crisis.

The Macedonian economy appears to be financially stable. The government nurtures an image of business promoter and responsible borrower. Until recently, it was the region’s poster child for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. European banks were happy to earn good returns on Macedonian state bonds. Macedonia’s average GDP growth of 3% in the last three years is the highest in the region, completing this picture of prosperity.

But the economy is not sustainable. The government has used debt financing to invest in grandiose infrastructure projects, including the flagship “Skopje 2014” project, which erected statues and faux-classical buildings in the capital at a cost of over 600 million euro. Between 2008 and 2014, Macedonia’s public debt quadrupled, rising from 23% of GDP in 2008 to around 46% in 2014. Debt is projected to reach the 60% ceiling prescribed by the international financial institutions by 2019. The state budget increased by a third over the same period (from roughly 2 to 3 billion euro). Inflows of foreign direct investment averaged only 2.8% of GDP per year between 2009 and 2014, low even by regional standards.

Life for citizens has become more precarious. Around a third of the workforce is unemployed, the second highest rate in Europe after Kosovo. Without the heavy borrowing, the fragile economy could not sustain more than 300,000 pensioners, who rely on the state budget for half of their needs. Nor could it afford to pay the huge number of state employees. The last official number was 140,000 in 2008, and latest estimates range from 200,000 to 255,000. The total number of people employed in Macedonia is 700,000 – meaning that the state employs nearly a third of the workforce. No wonder people are leaving to seek better prospects abroad. A census has been postponed by the government, but Gallup estimates that more than 300,000 people have left the country. According to Deutsche Welle, most of the 120,000 Macedonians who acquired Bulgarian passports have already emigrated to the EU or elsewhere. Macedonia seems to have more registered voters (at 1,780,128) than residents.

VMRO-DPMNE has kept its hold on power in this unhappy state by resorting to strident nationalism and intimidation of its opponents, increasing the divisions in a multi-ethnic country. Ethnic Macedonians are understandably aggrieved by the lack of a solution to the dispute with Greece over the country’s name, which already blocked entry to NATO – and Gruevski has adroitly used the issue to rally nationalism in support of the government. Meanwhile, the ethnic Albanian political parties have been co-opted by their share in the spoils of mis-governance, even though their people remain even more alienated and poorer than the rest of the population.

The divisions are deepening right across society. Three-quarters of ethnic Albanians still firmly believe in EU and NATO accession as the way to a better future, but by now over 62 percent of other Macedonians think badly of joining the EU. Three-quarters of the ruling party’s supporters see the name dispute with Greece as the key reason for Macedonia’s now bleak EU accession prospects; but only 20% of opposition supporters agree. The biggest divide is between rich and poor, especially along party lines. The poor are undoubtedly getting poorer: resources available to the poorest fifth of citizens fell by 38% between 2008 and 2012. But business profits have grown by almost two and a half times since the year 2000. Nearly 80% of all Macedonians believe it is unfair that employment in state institutions and general prosperity is based on political party membership.
The way forward: a unity government with EU and NATO support

Macedonia is once again becoming a security threat on the EU’s borders. But this time it’s different: a non-partisan civic movement has taken to the streets for the first time to change the country. There is a real opportunity to use this energy to build democracy and a market economy in this multi-ethnic state.

No party is doing well in Macedonia: the secret recordings have lost the government all credibility, but the public has little faith in the leaders of the opposition and ethnic Albanian parties either. The immediate solution lies in collective action first by all those who have created the problem.

Now that three of the prime minister’s key allies have tendered their resignations, Macedonia should turn again to the solution that averted the civil war in 2001: a unity government composed of the four main parties. To foster the necessary compromises and offer a fresh start. it would not include the current prime minister, public prosecutor or speaker of the parliament – but opposition parties must be involved in open and credible oversight of the intelligence agencies, and take responsibility for the discredited interior ministry.

The most promising scenario is a government of national unity that lasts for 12-18 months, to prepare the country for free and fair elections, and create an independent commission to investigate all the events since the opposition was violently ejected from the parliament in 2013. And it should agree on a common negotiating platform on the name dispute with Greece. Macedonia’s newly reinvigorated civil society should also contribute to the work of the parliamentary commissions and monitor the new government’s progress in restoring the accountability of public institutions. The country must avoid just replacing the driver in the seat of the captured state machinery, by increasing inclusion and pluralism in governance.

As so often in the Balkans, such a scenario will be impossible without EU and NATO assistance. The default position among EU foreign ministers is to expect sovereign countries to sort out their own political problems through democratic institutions. But after a decade of unconsolidated democracy and state capture, Macedonia does not possess those institutions. Therefore, other levers of influence are needed. NATO could offer a tangible incentive to all parties by offering a possibility to re-open membership talks. EU accession negotiations are far off because so much time has been lost on necessary reforms, but the enlargement process is vital to offer hope, especially to the ethnic Albanians, and guidance to reformers who are seeking to take back captured parts of the state. The support of EU institutions, member-states and banks is vital for the country’s macroeconomic stability. Neighbouring governments could also exert more pressure, as their own security is at stake. Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov was the first to request Gruevski to step down.

The EU can no longer afford to indulge a model of governance in Macedonia that has been far more aggressive in its authoritarian zeal than nearby Montenegro or Turkey. The European People’s Party has a particular responsibility to get involved, having accepted and protected VMRO-DPMNE as a sister party for all these years. Now it must act to uphold the standards of democracy on which it was founded, by putting pressure on VMRO-DPMNE to relinquish its grip on power and join a unity government. The time to move is now, as the costs of inaction will continue to rise.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 22nd, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Politics // The New York Times

Obama Set to Strengthen Federal Role in Clean Water Regulation.

By CORAL DAVENPORT, MAY 22, 2015

The Obama administration is expected in the coming days to announce a major clean water regulation that would restore the federal government’s authority to limit pollution in the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands.

Environmentalists have praised the new rule, calling it an important step that would lead to significantly cleaner natural bodies of water and healthier drinking water.

But it has attracted fierce opposition from several business interests, including farmers, property developers, fertilizer and pesticide makers, oil and gas producers and a national association of golf course owners. Opponents contend that the rule would stifle economic growth and intrude on property owners’ rights.

Republicans in Congress point to the rule as another example of what they call executive overreach by the Obama administration. Already, they are advancing legislation on Capitol Hill meant to block or delay the rule.

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Related Coverage

Gina McCarthy, above, the E.P.A. administrator, who is expected to release the final version of a new rule intended to protect the nation’s drinking water this week.

Critics Hear E.P.A.’s Voice in ‘Public Comments’ MAY 18, 2015

As head of Washington’s water department, George Hawkins, is on the scene every time a major sewer or water line breaks.
Toxic Waters: Saving U.S. Water and Sewer Systems Would Be CostlyMARCH 14, 2010

Toxic Waters: Clean Water Laws Are Neglected, at a Cost in SufferingSEPT. 12, 2009

The mouth of Avondale Creek in Alabama, into which a pipe maker dumped oil, lead and zinc. A court ruling made the waterway exempt from the Clean Water Act.

Toxic Waters: Rulings Restrict Clean Water Act, Hampering E.P.A.FEB. 28, 2010

The water system in Ramsey, N.J., has illegal concentrations of arsenic and the solvent tetrachloroethylene, both linked to cancer.

Millions in U.S. Drink Contaminated Water, Records Show, DEC. 7, 2009
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The announcement of the rule could come as soon as Friday. If not, it is likely to happen next week, people with knowledge of the plans said.

Photo – Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, says a new clean water rule is intended “to protect critical streams and wetlands that are currently vulnerable to pollution and destruction.”

The water rule is part of a broader push by President Obama to use his executive authority to build a major environmental legacy, without requiring new legislation from the Republican-controlled Congress.

This summer, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release a final set of rules intended to combat climate change, by limiting greenhouse gas pollution from power plants. Mr. Obama is also expected to announce in the coming year that he will put vast swaths of public land off limits to energy exploration and other development.

“Water is the lifeblood of healthy people and healthy economies,” Gina McCarthy, the E.P.A.’s administrator, wrote in an April blog post promoting the water rule. “We have a duty to protect it. That’s why E.P.A. and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are finalizing a Clean Water Rule later this spring to protect critical streams and wetlands that are currently vulnerable to pollution and destruction.”

But even as E.P.A. staff worked this month to finish the rule, the House passed a bill to block it. The Senate is moving forward with a bill that would require the agency to fundamentally revamp the rule.

“Under this outrageously broad new rule, Washington bureaucrats would now have a say in how farmers, and ranchers, and families use their own property,” said Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming and the chief author of the Senate bill.

“It would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate private property just based on things like whether it’s used by animals or birds, or even insects,” he said.

“This rule,” he added, “is not designed to protect the traditional waters of the United States. It is designed to expand the power of Washington bureaucrats.”

The E.P.A. and the Army Corps of Engineers jointly proposed the rule, known as Waters of the U.S., last March. The agency has held more than 400 meetings about it with outside groups and read more than one million public comments as it wrote the final language.

The rule is being issued under the 1972 Clean Water Act, which gave the federal government broad authority to limit pollution in major water bodies, like Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River and Puget Sound, as well as streams and wetlands that drain into larger waters.

But two Supreme Court decisions related to clean water protection, in 2001 and in 2006, created legal confusion about whether the federal government had the authority to regulate the smaller streams and headwaters, and about other water sources such as wetlands.

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BUT E.P.A. officials are not completely satisfied by the projected draft of this new Obama directives!

E.P.A. officials say the new rule will clarify that authority, allowing the government to once again limit pollution in those smaller bodies of water — although it does not restore the full scope of regulatory authority granted by the 1972 law.

The E.P.A. also contends that the new rule will not give it the authority to regulate additional waters that had not been covered under the 1972 law. People familiar with the rule say it will apply to about 60 percent of the nation’s waters.

“Until now, major bodies of water were protected under the law,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, a spokeswoman for Environment America, an advocacy group. “But they can’t be fully protected unless the streams that flow into them are also protected.”

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The rule will also limit pollution in groundwater and other sources of drinking water. Polluted groundwater is now chemically treated before being used as drinking water.

“We could spend a lot of money to massively treat the water that we drink, but it makes a lot more sense to protect the source,” Ms. Ouzts said.

A coalition of industry groups, led by the American Farm Bureau Federation, has waged an aggressive campaign calling on the E.P.A. to withdraw or revamp the rule.

Farmers fear that the rule could impose major new costs and burdens, requiring them to pay fees for environmental assessments and to obtain permits just to till the soil near gullies, ditches or dry streambeds where water flows only when it rains. A permit is required for any activity, like farming or construction, that creates a discharge into a body of water covered under the Clean Water Act or affects the health of it, like filling in a wetland or blocking a stream.

“It’s going to cause a nightmare for farmers,” said Don Parrish, the senior director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“Our members own the majority of the landscape that’s going to be impacted by this,” he said. “It’s going to make their land, the most valuable thing they possess, less valuable. It could reduce the value of some farmland by as much as 40 percent. If you want to build a home, if you want to grow food, if you want a job to go with that clean water, you have to ask E.P.A. for it.”

The lobbying fight over the rule has also generated a public-relations battle over social media.

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The Deck is not a plain playing field:

In its protest of the rule, the American Farm Bureau Federation started a social media campaign, using the Twitter hashtag #DitchTheRule, to urge farmers and others to push the E.P.A. to abandon or revamp the rule. The E.P.A., in response, created a campaign with the hashtag #DitchTheMyth, urging people to speak out in favor of the rule. But some legal experts contend that campaign might have tested the limits of federal lobbying laws, which prohibit a government agency from engaging in grass-roots lobbying for proposed policies or legislation.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 20th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Russian civil society deemed ‘undesirable’

Tanya Lokshina 20 May 2015, the openDemocracy website, London

Tanya Lokshina is Russia program director at Human Rights Watch, based in Moscow.

A new Russian bill on ‘undesirable organisations’ has been endorsed today which will allow the government to ban foreign NGOs. But are they the real targets?
 www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/…

Today, Russia’s upper house of parliament endorsed a bill on ‘undesirable organisations,’ passed by the lower house just a day earlier, on May 19. The bill will let the government ban the activities of foreign or international nongovernmental groups deemed to undermine ‘state security,’ ‘national defense,’ or the ‘constitutional order.’ There is little doubt that this new piece of repressive legislation will be now swiftly signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.
The real targets

Meanwhile, my phone is ringing off the hook: ‘So, this new law the State Duma has just adopted, is it about you? Do you think they want to use this to close down the Human Rights Watch bureau in Moscow?’ Well, to be sure, the bill has the potential to severely damage our work in Russia. The ‘undesirables’ bill is a cause of grave concern for all international rights groups operating in the country.

‘Do you think they want to use this to close down the Human Rights Watch bureau in Moscow?’

Nevertheless, I am genuinely convinced that it’s not about us. The intended targets of this new legislation on foreign and international organisations are actually Russian activists and Russian groups. The bill is aimed at cutting them off from their international partners, further isolating them, and squeezing the very life out of Russian civil society.

Just think about it. Why would the government need new legislation to close down Russia-based offices of foreign groups when the Justice Ministry can do this in one swift move simply by de-registering any organisation, no strings attached? And if Russia wants to stop representatives of foreign groups from entering the country, the authorities can simply blacklist them with no explanation whatsoever.

The bill on ‘undesirables’ not only allows the authorities to ban specific organisations’ activities on Russian territory – it also provides for sanctions against Russian citizens and Russian groups for ‘involvement’ in the activities of ‘undesirable’ organisations.

The bill does not specify what ‘involvement’ might include. So anything goes. Distributing — including by posting online — the statements, reports, or other materials of an ‘undesirable,’ participating in international events jointly with ‘undesirable’ organisations, or even simply communicating with staffers of ‘undesirable’ organisations could be all interpreted by the authorities as ‘involvement’ in their activities and result in punishment of the Russian groups and individuals. Sanctions include hefty administrative fines for the first two offenses, and more than two offenses in one year can result in criminal prosecution and up to six years in prison.

Selective implementation

The bill appears to be designed for selective implementation. The definition of ‘state security’ under Russian law is vague. The prosecutor general’s office can designate an organisation as ‘undesirable’ without judicial review based solely on materials from law enforcement and security services. The Justice Ministry is designated as the keeper of the ‘undesirables.’

There is no requirement for the authorities to give a potential ‘undesirable’ any notice – an organisation may only discover its ‘undesirability’ after it has been already included on the list. Once the law enters into force, any foreign non-governmental group that criticises the Russian authorities, conducts independent activity, and supports civil society in Russia will be under threat of being pegged ‘undesirable.’

The bill appears to be designed for selective implementation.

An ‘undesirable’ organisation must terminate its presence in Russia and stop participating in any projects on Russian territory. Moreover, it won’t be able to reach out to the public through Russian media or websites – all its information will effectively be banned. And any Russian friends, partners or sympathizers of these organisations should know better than to go near them.
Spreading the trend

These new harsh restrictions follow in the footsteps of the ‘foreign agents’ law passed in July 2012, which has been used to demonise in the eyes of the public close to 60 local non-governmental organisations, including the country’s leading human rights groups, as anti-Russian saboteurs. Several of these organisations chose to shut down rather than bear the ‘foreign agent’ stigma.

The new bill on ‘undesirables’ is indubitably part of the Kremlin’s trend of repression against independent voices but takes it even further. While supposedly focused on preventing foreign and international groups from undermining national security, it is evidently meant to deliver another hard blow to Russian groups and activists. Once the authorities have free rein to bar Russians from ‘involvement’ with their ‘undesirable’ foreign counterparts, the authorities can leave critics of the government in an airless limbo and eventually suffocate them.

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