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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 18th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Environment
How Elves and Dragons Are Doing a Fantastic Job of Protecting Iceland’s Environment
Originally Icelanders used mythological creatures as a way to deter people from coming to their island, now they protect it.

By Sola Agustsson / AlterNet
April 13, 2015

In Iceland, where my father is from, it’s perfectly reasonable for people to think elves exist. Over half the population believes in, or at least entertains the existence of these invisible, magical and often mischievous creatures. I have relatives who are marine biologists, professors and agnostics who will not deny that elves, the huldufólk, or “hidden people,” reside in communities underneath rocks, living in detached harmony with humans and the natural world. For the most part, elves ignore humans until they interfere with their habitat.

When developers try to destroy rocks that are known elf homes or churches, things get spooky. A notorious example is the Álfhólsvegur (elf-hill) road in Kopavogur, which was eventually moved to accommodate the elves after machinery continued to mysteriously break down and construction accidents began to frequently occur in the 1930s. Fifty years later, plans to rebuild the same road were again halted when the same issues resurfaced, and workers refused to go near the hill with any machinery. Similar cases of construction machinery malfunctioning or natural disasters occurring when people attempted to disturb elf homes have led many Icelanders to abandon development over elf sites.

Over the last few decades, elves have gotten political representation in Iceland. An emerging group of elf advocates have formed alliances with environmentalists, and have managed to prevent major roads and homes from being built over rocks where elves are rumored to live.

Elf advocates have not always been successful in defending their invisible friends, as in the case of the Ófeigskirkja boulder, which was eventually moved after an 8-year battle with developers. Some argue that the process of protecting elf territory, and taking elf issues seriously, gives elves time to adjust to leaving their homes. “It cannot be denied that belief in the supernatural is occasionally the reason for local concerns and these opinions are taken into account just as anybody else’s would be…Issues have been settled by delaying construction projects so that the elves can, at a certain point, move on,” the Iceland Road and Coastal administration stated.

It’s difficult to imagine why elves garner so much respect in Norse culture. In America, we think of elves as Santa’s pointy green factory workers. But according to 18th- and 19th-century legends, Icelandic elves are anything but servile. They have been known to seek revenge on people who betray them, but also provide good fortune to those who pay them respect. Roughly the same size as humans, they are invisible, and have been described by scholar Terry Gunnell as “beautiful, powerful, alluring, and free from care.”

Some Icelanders go as far as to allegedly have sex with elves. “Sex with humans is boring,” writes self-proclaimed elf sex expert Hallgerdur Hallgrímsdóttir, who is fed up with dating her own kind. “Elf sex is possibly the safest sex on earth. They don’t carry sexually transmitted diseases and you can’t get pregnant or make an Elverine pregnant unless you both want to, which is not unheard of.”

The island of fire and ice, full of geysers, waterfalls, glaciers, fjords, natural hot springs, and vast mossy fields, is a landscape people want to preserve, and one that fosters the belief in supernatural forces. Elves and other mythological beings came to represent a way of understanding the natural environment, and also human consciousness. “Many things indicate that the hidden people originate in our unconscious: They resemble us in many ways, though they are more spirit-like and invisible, and to see the elves, must to either be given permission by them, or have a special ability. They can have supra-human capacities; and they can be both better and worse than humans,” says Haukur Ingi Jónasson, a theologian and psychoanalyst.

Though defending elf homes is not merely about Icelandic belief in superstition, but also in respecting the natural, non-human world. “Icelanders are few in number, so in the old times we doubled our population with tales of elves and fairies,” says President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. Even Icelandic-born singer Bjork admitted to believing in elves when asked by TV host Stephen Colbert: “It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.”

“Iceland is full of álagablettir, or enchanted spots, places you don’t touch – just like the fairy forts and peat bogs in Ireland. They’re protected by stories about the bad things that will happen if you do. This word of mouth, passed down over generations, is usually more effective than an official preservation order,” says Terry Gunnell, professor of folklore at the University of Iceland.

Iceland’s rising tourist industry could be one factor in maintaining the existence of not just elves, but other Icelandic mythic characters, such as trolls, sea monsters, and dragons.

One example is the Lagarfljótsormur, the Icelandic version of a Loch Ness monster. Resembling an aquatic brachiosaurus, myths of this serpent date back to 1345, though most sightings of the monster have occurred in the 20th century. Stories of the wormlike monster breathing poisonous fire and killing civilians abound, and sightings of the creature are said to foreshadow natural disasters. In 2014, the Fljótsdalshérað municipal council declared that the Lagarfljótsormur exists, though some speculate that this was a ploy to attract monster-seeking tourists.

Originally Icelanders used these mythological creatures as a way to deter people from coming to their island. Thirteenth-century cartographers depicted Icelandic coasts as utterly terrifying, laden with sea monsters, mermen, serpents and other unclassifiable mutants in order to dissuade explorers from settling there. On some ancient maps, the northern region of Dreki is ominously marked “Here be Dragons,” and is rumored to be populated by sea monsters.

Coincidentally, this same area is also thought to have untapped oil resources of interest to private companies who have recently gotten licensing rights to search for oil there. In a 2014 agreement, oil companies agreed to pay 10,000 ISK per square kilometer per year for the exclusive right to search for any useable resources.

While elf activists have been vocal about disturbing elf territory, there have yet to be sea dragon advocates rushing to defend the fire-breathing aquatic monsters of the Dreki region, or the Lagarfljótsormur for that matter. Elves have been known to cause mischief, but sea monsters have been less than desirable residents in Iceland, having been rumored to eat children.

Still, many Icelandic environmentalists are wary of disturbing the arctic region. Though beliefs in these otherworldly characters may seem ridiculous, the traditions have promoted a worldview of existing in harmony with the natural world rather than merely dominating it.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 12th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

CHORNOBYL SONGS PROJECT
SPECIAL CD RELEASE CONCERT
Saturday, April 25, 7:00PM

from: Center for Traditional Music and Dance (CTMD) –  traditions at ctmd.org via ctmd.ccsend

In partnership with the Ukrainian Museum and Yara Arts Group, we are excited to present a special concert of the Chonobyl Songs Project, performed by Ensemble Hilka.

Back in 2011, CTMD worked with ethnomusicologist/singer Maria Sonevytsky (Bard College) to bring renowned vocalist/ethnomusicologist Yefim Yefremov to New York for a series of workshops and concerts with a group of leading local singers (Hilka) that focused on the polyphonic village singing styles of Ukraine’s Chornobyl region which were extant before the nuclear disaster of 1986. The Chornobyl Songs Project CD is now being released on Smithsonian Folkways.

This concert will take place at the beautiful Ukrainian Museum, 222 East Sixth Street (between 2nd & 3rd Avenues) in Manhattan’s East Village.

A reception in the museum concourse featuring music by the Veveritse Brass Band will follow the concert. Admission is $15/$10 members and seniors/$5 students.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 6th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Andrei Kolesnikov is a senior Associate, and the Chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program, at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
More from this author…
Why Sanctions on Russia Don’t Work
A Blast From the Past
Russian Opposition “in a Great Depression” After Nemtsov Murder

——————————————————————————


The Russian Middle Class in a Besieged Fortress.

Andrei Kolesnikov, Carnegie Moskow Center, Russia.
Article April 6, 2015
 carnegie.ru/2015/04/06/russian-mi…

Summary
There is little reason to believe that the Russian middle class will react to the ongoing financial and economic crisis with protests or renewed calls for change. Instead, it seems almost certain that it will opt for strategies of survival and perseverance.

Introduction

How will the Russian middle class react to the effects of low oil prices, Western sanctions, and deep-set economic problems, a state of affairs that some economists have dubbed the “triple whammy”? Unfortunately, these problems are only part of the broader systemic crisis that plagues Russia today. Yet there is little reason to believe that the Russian middle class will react to the ongoing financial and economic crisis with protests or renewed calls for change. Instead, it seems almost certain that this dynamic segment of society will opt for strategies of survival and perseverance rather than articulating a political agenda that challenges the Russian government or its current policies.

The nature and consequences of Russia’s current crisis cannot be reduced to economic issues. Sberbank President German Gref argued in his January 14, 2015, speech at the Gaidar Forum in Moscow that it is important not to overlook the impact of critical governance shortcomings. But instability or gaps in the quality of the state’s administrative capabilities—however important—are not a root cause. Rather, they are one of the effects of a deeper institutional and values-based crisis. All other aspects of the crisis, including the current political situation, merely stem from it. And there should be no question that Russia is indeed in a political crisis, despite outward manifestations of calmness and the consolidation of society and elites around the head of state.

Unfortunately, the triple whammy is not unleashing the forces of “creative destruction” or disruption that some reformist voices had been pinning their hopes on. In many cases, crises enable states to reform political life and move forward. In this sense, the 2008–2009 financial crisis was a lost opportunity for Russia. The crisis did not change behavior among state capitalism’s elites nor did it spur structural reform. Rather, the struggling economy was simply flooded with money from the state’s reserve funds. The state’s playbook conformed with former U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s old axiom: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

The Economy After Crimea

Russia’s economic problems are certainly significant.

Economic analysts generally agree that Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) will decline by at least 3–7 percent in 2015 while annual inflation will soar. Inflation is forecast by the central bank to peak at 17.0–17.5 percent in the second quarter of 2015.

Headline inflation was 15 percent in January 2015 (from January 2014 to January 2015), and increasing at a rate of 3.9 percent a month—the highest rate since February 1999. The disaggregated components of the inflation numbers also tell a powerful story. Prices for medicine and medical equipment grew 6.6 percent in January (19.4 percent year-on-year). Food prices, excluding fruit and vegetables, were up 3.7 percent in January (18.4 percent year-on-year). Fruit and vegetable prices increased by 22.1 percent in January (40.7 percent year-on-year).

Assessments of the effect of sanctions on overall GDP vary. Experts from FBK Grant Thornton, a business consultancy, suggest that the sanctions will shave off 1.2 percent of Russian GDP by mid-2015.1 The effect of the sharp decline in oil prices on GDP is even greater. Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy experts Sergey Drobyshevsky and Andrey Polbin estimate that a decrease in oil prices to $40 per barrel would translate into a 3.7 percent decline in GDP in constant prices.


Structural problems, for example, state intervention on behalf of favored industries and companies and the blocking of pension reform, are in part linked to the Russian economy’s dependence on oil and gas. They are also tied to the lack of reform in the sectors of the economy (such as healthcare and education) that are human-capital-intensive as well as the lack of resources allocated to these sectors due to inadequate government financing.


As the labor force has shrunk, economists have begun to notice a decline in the skill level of Russian workers. The rector of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Vladimir Mau, has pointed out that “the unemployment rate in Russia is rather low due to the effects of demographic factors. However, a conflict is brewing: on the one hand, the army of retirees is on the rise; on the other, there are young people who are unwilling to fill the jobs being vacated.”2 ?he low-skilled segment of the labor market is also changing. Inflation and a weak ruble have made Russia unattractive even to migrants—the most unpretentious part of the workforce; there was a 70 percent decrease in the number of migrants arriving in Russia in the beginning of 2015.

Another factor contributing to the current situation is the large percentage of workers who are employed in the shadow economy, which, according to official statistics, accounts for 12.5 percent of GDP. According to Rosstat data, in 2011, 22 million Russians—almost a third of the 71-million-person workforce—were employed in informal sectors of the economy. (This sector comprises, for example, many entrepreneurs and their employees, those providing paid services off the books, and agricultural workers.)3 The number is expected to increase as a result of the ongoing decline in real incomes, worsening labor market conditions, employee realignment and reductions at various large-scale enterprises, and other crisis-related factors. Workers in the informal economy pay no taxes and therefore will not be able to contribute to the Pension Fund. According to data from the Russian Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, 20 percent of the able-bodied population is missing from the Pension Fund databases.4
Politics and Policy

While oil price volatility is certainly not a by-product of current Russian economic policy, the other two components of the triple whammy—sanctions and structural problems—have a lot to do with decisions made by the government. Moreover, they are directly related to the nature and content of domestic and foreign policy decisionmaking. In a nutshell, such decisions are increasingly the province of an extremely close-knit and ever-shrinking circle of decisionmakers around Russian President Vladimir Putin, known as “Putin’s friends,” a description that has become increasingly literal.


It is telling that Russia’s economic downturn worsened after the annexation of Crimea in the spring of 2014. Macroeconomic indicators looked dreadful by the end of the year. The ruble was the world’s worst-performing currency against the dollar.5 Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin has suggested that the drop in oil prices only accounts for 25 percent of the ruble’s recent depreciation. Kudrin claims that sanctions account for 25 to 40 percent of the currency’s slide with the dollar’s overall surge contributing an additional 5 to 10 percent. Kudrin also highlights the negative effects of “risks, expectations, and fears,” including investors’ lack of confidence in the government’s efforts to improve the investment climate and support economic growth.6

Economic policymaking is increasingly held hostage by a new and unexpected set of actors. For example, any attempts by the government to mount superhuman policy changes in the economic sphere or complex diplomatic maneuvers could be blown to bits if Donetsk People’s Republic leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko were to order his troops to move on the city of Mariupol. Russia’s investment climate, financial stability, and economic development depend more on the actions of separatist leaders in Donetsk and Lugansk, the chief prosecutor, and the Investigative Committee than the central bank’s official monetary and interest rate policies or deputy prime ministers’ declarations at the Davos World Economic Forum. Amid growing isolationism, nationalism, and anti-Western sentiments, the “Zakharchenko Factor” may not be the sole determinant of current developments, but it plays a very important role.

Taxpayer’s Democracy: An Unattained Ideal

Meanwhile, Russians remain quite passive about their economic situation, even as the consequences of the triple whammy gradually emerge.

Both Hegel and Marx wrote about alienation (Entfremdung), specifically, the mutual alienation of the people and their government. On a conceptual level, governments seek to exploit the benefits from GDP, economic rents, and tax revenues for the sake of self-preservation. This goal in turn leads to unproductive government expenditures on defense, law enforcement, and operations that significantly exceed productive government expenditures in other areas, say, education and healthcare.

In Russia, the clique of Putin-era oligarchs is not constrained by political institutions that would ordinarily help relay public opinion to the government. Of course, the Russian political system has never fully subscribed to the principle of “no taxation without representation.” However, under Russia’s particular brand of state capitalism and heavy dependence on oil and gas profits, closed channels of political representation have practically obliterated it.


The president’s inner circle views economic rent as its personal revenue stream or private property, as evidenced by state-owned oil company Rosneft’s request for substantial subsidies from the National Wealth Fund, which was created in order to accumulate oil-based revenues to compensate for a projected state-backed Pension Fund deficit. This is quite logical for a system in which having power is synonymous with owning property; this so-called power-property relationship is also sanctified by the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church. The church is increasingly playing a role geared toward maximizing the effect of pro-government propaganda and ensuring greater conformity inside Russian society with its socially conservative goals and values. (The persecution of the band Pussy Riot is only the most well-known example of these efforts.)


However, such an arrangement contradicts the Russian constitution, which states that “land and other natural resources shall be utilized and protected in the Russian Federation as the basis of the life and activity of the peoples living on the territories concerned.” Those resources were not intended to be the basis of life and activity for a handful of beneficiaries of state capitalism and their families.


?conomic rent is alienated from the people, and so is the government. People believe that they have no way to advocate meaningful change in their country and thus allow the establishment to make decisions on its own. The classic Putin-era social contract (“freedom in exchange for sausage”) that emerged during the period of high oil prices gave way in 2014 to “freedom in exchange for Crimea and national pride.”

The government is also alienated by virtue of the fact that elections now distort the principles of representation more than ever before. This fact triggered the street protests in 2011–2012, when some in the middle class demanded democracy and fair elections. These demands were perfectly in line with Seymour Lipset’s theory that higher living standards, education, and income are the foundations for a realization by increasingly affluent members of society of the need for greater democracy.7

In 2011, Russia’s urban middle class offered some support for Lipset’s hypothesis by advancing their demands for democracy. Yet in 2014, after failing to achieve their original goal, they set aside such political interests in favor of the “Crimea is ours” (Krym nash) concept. In essence, they agreed that the concoction of hybrid and trade wars was better for the motherland than its presence, to put it pompously, in the family of European nations.

The year 2014 marked the degradation and militarization of state policies and mass consciousness. These policies were a striking contrast to the recent behavior of modern democratic societies, which consider military losses unacceptable and regard appeals to an entity’s sacred status as a relic of bygone theocratic eras.8

Along with the post-Crimean consolidation of Russian society, sociologists have found that Russians stayed true to a core belief: “We cannot have an impact on anything so therefore we do not want to impact anything.” According to a Levada Center poll, about 60 percent of the population agree with the statement that they are unable to affect the situation in the country. Close to 50 percent believe that they can do nothing to influence events in their own city or town.9

Such views give rise to paternalistic attitudes like “let the state decide everything for me.” These attitudes correlate with the relatively insignificant contribution that taxpayers make to federal and local budgets compared with the budget revenues derived from sales of oil and gas.

Kudrin has described the public’s alienation from the decisionmaking process in the following terms. “In the 2000s, the country’s prosperity grew largely due to the revenue from natural resources,” he wrote. “But the people were not the ones benefiting from it. In terms of GDP, out of 37 percent of all collected taxes and other payments, rents constituted more than a third, while individual income tax accounted for only about 3 percent. . . . Officials easily and freely redistributed easy money—as a result, no feedback mechanisms were created.”10

While the Russian citizen is alienated from the rent revenues, he knows that his livelihood depends on them. He is willing to accept them from the state, but at the same time he develops an inferiority complex about his material wealth, knowing that he did not exactly earn the money. This belief allows pro-redistribution coalitions—which divide rent among those close to the authorities’ clans as well as lobbyists and pressure groups—to claim their “right” to “their” share in the redistribution of public funds. This stance seems extremely provocative in the midst of the economic crisis but clearly indicates who holds the keys to the house of Russian politics. For example, Nikolai Podguzov, the deputy minister for economic development, recently announced that “Rosneft requests a total of 1.3 trillion rubles from the National Wealth Fund (NWF) for 28 projects. . . . Rosneft proposes that the NWF finance projects worth over 3 trillion rubles.”11 Not surprisingly, such a state of affairs angers the members of other pro-redistribution coalitions.

Out of this emerges a level of passivity among the public and acceptance of the consequences of the triple whammy as they gradually materialize. It appears that there never was and never will be a taxpayer democracy in the current rentier system—after all, individual contributions to the national well-being are quite small when contrasted with what is received from hydrocarbon-based rents. The public’s impact on government decisions, their own political participation, and their involvement in civic life are just as insignificant. The process of spending taxpayer money does not concern the taxpayers themselves.

But when the oil-oozing, ostensibly collective pie is complemented by the mantra “Crimea is ours,” it destroys both consensus-based and participatory democracy, along with any sense of civic duty or collective effort. Crimea was not a collective effort by any stretch—the Russian public stormed the peninsula while sitting in front of their televisions. Rather, Crimea was a gift from the government.

In their heart of hearts, Russians do not consider themselves creators of national wealth. That further discourages most forms of political participation, which should ideally be directed at achieving a more rational, honest, and equitable distribution of the goods and services produced by the economy.

This reality explains the public’s willingness to tolerate just about everything and its unwillingness to protest. It also explains the lack of incentive for private initiative, for private investment, for innovation, and for the protection of private property. For their part, state investments further discourage private economic activity and fail to spur economic growth. Generally speaking, state-generated investment produces a pool of money that either provokes inflation or encourages capital flight to countries with more attractive investment climates. The Russian economy needs state investment as much as Soviet-era enterprises needed foreign machinery, most of which was never unpacked and rusted away in leaky warehouses.
The Class Pyramid

The triple whammy is a blow to all income levels of Russian society, but it especially affects lower- and middle-income groups who are more sensitive to price increases. The general level of inflation that took off in early 2015 severely impacted the middle class, the major consumer of various services and durable goods. Real disposable incomes fell 7.3 percent in December 2014 compared to the same period in 2013. According to a January 2015 Public Opinion Foundation poll, 62 percent of the population describes the situation as an economic crisis and sees “dreadful inflation” as the main manifestation of the crisis.12

Research on the middle class by the director of the Independent Institute for Social Policy at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Tatyana Maleva, suggests that the social structure of Russian households has not undergone significant change in recent years. According to Maleva, about 70 percent of the population are below the middle class. Approximately 40 percent of households belonging to that group are at risk of poverty, while 30 percent could potentially join the middle and upper-middle class.

The size of the middle class can be measured in a number of ways based on different criteria. A rough estimate of the size of the middle class puts the number at around 20 percent of the population.13 While some other studies have come up with different numbers, an approach based on analysis of 2012 Eurobarometer data supports Tatyana Maleva’s conclusions.14

In a political sense, the group at risk of poverty makes up the regime’s social and electoral base. Not coincidentally, they are also the main recipients of public funds. Even amid the constraints imposed by the triple whammy, the government will therefore strive to ensure that this group does not end up below the poverty line. Humanitarian considerations play a fairly minor role in these efforts, which are based on cold political calculations and the regime’s desire to discourage the creation of social tensions. Social mobility from the middle to the upper-middle class, which has been long stifled by the highly monopolistic economy controlled by a small number of political-business elites, may cease altogether as a result of the current crisis.

Thus, the regime’s social goal is to preserve the class pyramid, which emerged during the oil boom and economic recovery of the 2000s and has enabled the system of power-property and crony capitalism to reproduce itself. Evaporating material gains are being replaced with spiritual appeals, which will involve using cruder and more archaic propaganda, including indoctrination by the top brass of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the increasingly selective application of repressive laws.
The Estate Structure of the Resource State

This is only a slight correction of the regime’s principal course of action, which Higher School of Economics Professor Simon Kordonsky describes as “the suzerain takes care of his people—the amalgamation of estates—by distributing resources in a way that ensures that the privileged estates don’t get too brazen and the underprivileged ones don’t die from hunger.” Notably, this theory views modern Russian society as estate-based rather than class-based. And, as Kordonsky explains, “The distribution of resources is at the core of estate-based society, in contrast to class society, whose economy is mainly based on converting resources into capital and their broader reproduction.”15 In essence, this is status commercialization.

Status can be acquired by assuming high office (hence all the talk of regime figures buying top positions, seats in parliament, and so on). It can also be bestowed by the suzerain (look at the members of the Kremlin’s inner circle, who share similar security and intelligence backgrounds with Putin), and it can be inherited. Children of high-ranking officials and state capitalists from the redistributional coalitions take charge of high offices and even receive government decorations. Naturally, concludes Kordonsky, “Such a system does not need democracy as an institution for reconciling interests, nor does it focus on the needs of individuals who fall outside of the estate system.”16

Privatization in the 1990s was a way to utilize (and increase) resources within the market framework. The “re-privatization” of the 2000s in favor of state capitalism and figures from the president’s inner circle was a way to escape the market framework and return to a system based on estates.

Instead of encouraging middle-class growth, this type of estate structure actually slows it down. Quite often, one can only join the middle class—at least in terms of income levels—by working in a system dominated by the most privileged estates, for example, state-run corporations and companies that live off of government contracts or tenders.
The Conformist Class: Survival Instead of Change

How will the Russian middle class respond to the triple whammy? How will its political behavior and socioeconomic well-being be affected?

Some researchers point out that the middle class has been “the main actor of socioeconomic adaptation” in recent years.17 At the same time, it is still not large enough, strong enough, or confident enough in its future well-being to clearly formulate a political outlook or to insist on proper representation in government bodies and decisions. Other economists also talk about its “low bargaining power.”18

This bargaining power decreased even more after the failure of the 2011–2012 protests. After Dmitry Medvedev left the president’s office, both society and the loyal, liberal political elite lost incentives to construct political, lobbying, and civic coalitions in favor of modernization. Thus, modernization coalitions were replaced with redistributional, estate-based ones.

The big question is whether the middle class, which is quite adaptable, even wants such coalition-based bargaining power. In reality, its political behavior and positions are far removed from the romantic image that took shape in Moscow’s streets and squares and in the independent media during the democratic illusions of late 2011 and the first half of 2012.

In a 2014 book, Francis Fukuyama argues that the middle class has been the engine behind practically every recent protest in various countries across the world.19 What’s more, even a fairly elected but ineffective or corrupt government does not enjoy sufficient legitimacy in the eyes of the most advanced segments of the population. As Fukuyama writes, “Government actually had to deliver better results if it was to be regarded as legitimate, and needed to be more flexible and responsive to changing public demands.”20

That was exactly the chief motivation behind the 2011–2012 protests. Russians were dissatisfied with the government, and its legitimacy was diminishing as a result of dishonesty and ineffectiveness.

But the political protests that grew out of the public’s stance against the regime’s corruption were mostly limited to Moscow and involved only a very small part of the educated, urban middle class (although some upper- and lower-income segments of the population joined at times). This social stratum was immediately named the “creative class,” which, in turn, led to the shorter and more derisive word, “creatives.” While this concept does have something in common with the term coined by Richard Florida, the Russian meaning of the term does not actually cover people who are engaged in creative work. It refers instead to a small segment of Russian citizens who are dissatisfied with the regime and its authoritarian rule, predominantly for political and ethical reasons. In their beliefs and goals, creatives today somewhat resemble the democratic intelligentsia of the late 1980s.

Nor is the creative class always synonymous with the middle class, especially in terms of income levels (although its behavior does correspond to that of the middle class). In addition, its opposition activities sharply contrast with the conformism exhibited by the majority of the middle class. Contrary to expectations, this conformism will only grow or remain unchanged as a result of the triple whammy. Despite some sporadic protests, the majority will more readily embrace the strategies and tactics of survival instead of protests and demands for change, at least in 2015.

Consider the 2012 Eurobarometer survey of the middle class.21 According to the data, against the backdrop of blatantly dishonest elections that provoked protests in 2011, the middle class actually voted for United Russia—the pro-regime party. And at higher strata of Russian society, the level of support for the regime actually increased. The motivations underlying voting behavior varied: some voters had benefited handsomely during the economic boom of the early 2000s while others became complacent with their lot. Either way, conformism became the overarching trend.

The middle class was only slightly more active in terms of participation in opposition rallies (2.3 percent versus 1.9 percent at lower-income levels). The upper-middle class seemed to be the most active (11.7 percent), but this stratum was also quite active when it came to attendance at pro-government rallies (6.7 percent versus 1.0 percent of the middle class).

The lack of participation by the middle class—either in opposition to or in support of the government—suggests that its conformism is inherently passive. It does not express passionate or unequivocal support for the government; rather, the middle class is simply not ready to struggle for change. (It seems that active support for the regime manifested itself only after the referendum in Crimea and did not diminish much, if at all, as the Ukraine crisis worsened.)

According to the Eurobarometer survey, the middle class was evenly split in its assessment of the political situation (43 and 44 percent were satisfied or dissatisfied with it, respectively). In fact, the majority of respondents wanted no change to the political situation, while 12 percent preferred radical change.

The middle class’s relationship to the European Union (EU) is further proof of its conformism: 18.2 percent of the middle class and 27.8 percent of the upper-middle class wanted Russia to distance itself from the EU as much as possible. It is quite indicative of the mood in the country that the lower-middle class was the biggest supporter of EU integration, at 23.4 percent. These numbers have changed in the direction of greater “patriotism” for the time being. A January 2015 Levada Center poll, for example, demonstrated an increase in negative attitudes toward the United States and EU countries to 81 and 71 percent, respectively.


Conclusion

In his 1997 work “Anomalies of Economic Growth,” Yegor Gaidar, the architect of Russian reform, noted that two main social groups are interested in liberal market reforms in Russia: “The middle class, which needs a level playing field, effective protection of private property, and a government that is not cumbersomely involved in economic affairs; and the intelligentsia—those who are connected to the science, education, healthcare, culture, and other such sectors—to whom the redistribution of resources objectively reflects the economic needs of the country.” Russia’s developmental perspectives depend on the combined resources of these two groups.

In the nearly two decades since Gaidar began his work, by and large, very little social change has come to Russia: those in the middle class are considered the agents of change. The creative class can be considered the new intelligentsia.

Nevertheless, the coalition for modernization that began to emerge under Dmitry Medvedev was never realized. The signal from above that permitted the very existence of such a coalition was unceremoniously cut off, while the politician who had the best chance to launch perestroika 2.0 surrendered power based on his own free will.

The Russian model of change can only work if the demand for modernization expressed from below is noticed and clearly approved from above. In such a case, the notorious middle-class conformism toward official government policy could yet play a constructive role. If the higher-ups allow democracy, this brand of conformism implies that citizens will recognize that it must be supported and taken advantage of. As for the creative potential of the Russian middle class, it may very well serve as the engine of economic liberalization and political democratization, if it receives a level of representation in the government.

However, the creative forces among the agents of change can lie dormant for extremely long periods of time. After all, modernization coalitions in Venezuela and Iran have never really gained momentum, and those countries have experienced their own analogues to the triple whammy. So far, these forces have not yet fully shaken the Russian middle class.

We are now anxiously waiting for the agents of modernization, who have turned into the agents of mobilization, to finally come to their senses. But we probably will need to wait quite a bit longer. Give it a year or two.


Notes

1 “??????? ????? ?????? 1,2% ??? – ???????????? ???????? ???,” [The price of sanctions to Russia—1.2% of GDP: The research of the FBK company] FBK Grant Thornton, January 12, 2015, www.fbk.ru/press-center/news/sank….

2 “?????? ????????? ?????????????? ????? «????????»: ????????????? ?????? ? ?????–2015,” [The discussion club “Academy” first meeting: The economic challenges and risks in 2015] Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, December 19, 2014, www.iep.ru/ru/19-12-2014-pervoe-z….

3 Maxim Tovkaylo, “???????: 38 ??? ??????? ?????? ‘????????? ??? ? ???,’” [Golodets: It’s incomprehensible what 38 million of Russians are doing and where] Vedomosti, April 3, 2013, www.vedomosti.ru/career/news/1072….

4 Lyudmila Klimenteva, “???????: ????? 20% ????????? ????? ???????? ??? ????????? ??????,” [Topilin: Approximately 20% of the population can remain without noncontributory pension] Vedomosti, January 26, 2015, www.vedomosti.ru/finance/articles….

5 Henry Meyer and Irina Reznik, “The Chilly Fallout Between Putin and His Oligarch Pals,” Bloomberg, January 22, 2015, www.bloomberg.com/news/2015-01-22….

6 Gaidar Institute, 2014.

7 A number of researchers have found empirical evidence for this controversial modernization hypothesis put forward by Seymour Lipset. For instance, Robert J. Barro, Determinants of Economic Growth: A Cross-Country Empirical Study, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997).

8 Michael Howard, The Invention of Peace (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 99.

9 Denis Volkov and Stepan Goncharov, ????????? ???????????? ??????? ? ??????? ?????????? ??????? [The potential of the civic participation in solving social problems] (Moscow: Levada Center, 2014), www.levada.ru/books/potentsial-gr….

10 Alexei Kudrin, “????????? ? ???????? ? ??????? ???????” [Economy and politics in search of a balance] ????? ???????, no. 2-3 (Moscow: Moscow School of Civic Education, 2014). otetrad.ru/article-763.html.

11 Margarita Lyutova, “‘????????’ ????????? ?? ??? 1,3 ???? ?????? ?? 28 ????????” [Rosneft asked for 1.3 billion rubles from the National Wealth Fund] Vedomosti, January 28, 2015, www.vedomosti.ru/companies/news/3….

12 “???????? ? ??????????? ?????????????? ???????” [Russians about manifestations of the economic crisis] Public Opinion Foundation, January 21, 2015, fom.ru/Ekonomika/11919.

13 Tatyana Maleva and Lilia Ovcharova, ?????????? ??????? ?????? ???????? ? ?? ???? ?????????????? ????? [Russian middle classes on the eve and at the peak of economic growth] (Moscow, 2008), 73.

14 Svetlana Misikhina, ?????????-????????????? ?????????????? ? ?????????-???????????? ????????? ???????? ?????? ? ?????????? ????????? [Socioeconomic characteristics and value-political choices of the middle class in the Russian Federation] preprint edition (Moscow: Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, 2014).

15 Simon Kordonsky, ????????? ????????? ????????????? ?????? [The estate structure of the post-Soviet Russia] (Moscow: Public Opinion Foundation, 2008), 28.

16 Ibid., 34.

17 Tatyana Maleva et al., ???????????? ????????? ?????????? ???????? ?????????? ????????? ?? 2050 [The long-term concept of social policy of the Russian Federation until 2050] preprint edition (Moscow: Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, 2014), 43.

18 Alexander Auzan et al., ??????? ????? ? ????????????: ???????? ? ???????????? ????????????? ? ?????????-???????????? ?????????? ? ?????? [The middle class and modernization: Hypotheses on the formation of economic and sociopolitical institutions in Russia] (Moscow: 2009), 264.

19 Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014), 6.

20 Ibid.

21 The data are cited from Svetlana Misikhina, ?????????-????????????? ?????????????? [Socioeconomic characteristics].

Read more at: carnegie.ru/2015/04/06/russian-mi…

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on March 10th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Argument
The Kremlin Pulls on Georgia

It’s time for the West to stop taking Tbilisi for granted.

By Michael Cecire
Foreign Policy Magazine, March 9, 2015

As Russian forces consolidate their gains in Ukraine over the flat protests of Western leaders, the specter of Russian revanchism is keeping much of Eastern Europe on edge. But lumbering tanks and legions of insta-separatists aren’t the only concern. Ukraine isn’t Russia’s only target.

Perhaps most alarming are the warning signs going off in Georgia, a steadfast Euro-Atlantic partner where a pro-Western political consensus has long been a foreign-policy calling card. A long-standing opponent of Russian military adventurism, Georgia sought escape velocity from Russian regional dominance by courting membership in Euro-Atlantic structures and earned a reputation as an enthusiastic and credible Western partner. But

Western quiescence in the face of Russian territorial aggression is starting to have an effect.

Western quiescence in the face of Russian territorial aggression is starting to have an effect. After decades of acrimony in which Georgians have watched Russian proxies occupy 20 percent of their territory and ethnically cleanse some 300,000 of their compatriots, certain groups are starting to ask if maintaining close ties to the West is worth all the loss. Increasingly, Georgians are beginning to think that it isn’t.

The groups spearheading Russian influence operations in Georgia fly beneath the international radar under the cloak of local-language media and the oft-repeated surety of pro-Western sentiment. But they can be seen protesting in Tbilisi streets, preaching in Georgian churches, and holding improbably well-funded campaign rallies ahead of elections. The evidence shows that Russian influence in Georgia is growing stronger. (In the photo, a Stalin impersonator poses at a memorial service for the Soviet dictator in his Georgian hometown of Gori.)

But at Washington roundtables and in private conversations, Western officials and experts tend to downplay the possibility of Russian-exported propaganda taking root in Georgia. The root of this complacency is tied to regular polling from the U.S.-funded International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) that has consistently showed public support for Euro-Atlantic integration at between 60 and 70 percent. Successive governments have relied on this popular approval to justify their Western-facing foreign-policy agendas.

So support for Euro-Atlantic integration is broad. But is it deep? Those who have spent time with ordinary Georgians say the reality, as is often the case, is far more complex.

There, in a scene in the popular Georgian soap opera Chemi Tsolis Dakalebi (My Wife’s Best Friends), revelers at a wedding reception are interrupted by an announcement that Georgia has just been awarded a long-coveted “MAP” (membership action plan), a prelude to NATO membership. The announcement shocks the crowd into a stunned silence, which then gives way to raucous cheers. One character, while clapping and celebrating along with the others, turns to another partygoer and asks: “What’s a MAP?”

While the scene colorfully illuminates NATO’s outsized social, and even civilizational, pull among Georgians, it also suggests a harsher truth: that Georgian society’s Western moorings may be more emotive than well-informed. The headline numbers from public opinion polls don’t tell the whole story. Look deeper into the data, and the picture is much more worrisome.

According to an NDI poll last August, integration with the West was at best a tertiary issue for Georgians. Instead, “kitchen table” issues dominated respondents’ concerns, with worries about jobs (63 percent) and poverty (32 percent) eclipsing other issues. NATO and EU integration came in far behind at 10th and 17th, respectively. And of 21 issues polled, Georgians picked NATO and EU membership as the top issues the government spent too much time discussing.

But most concerning, buried deep in the survey results, were signs of growing support for joining the Eurasian Union, a Moscow-led EU “alternative.” A full 20 percent favored the idea of Georgian membership. This percentage has risen steadily from 11 percent in late 2013 to 16 percent in mid-2014. Who are these Georgians who would surrender their country’s sovereignty to the same power that keeps a steely grip on Georgian territory and carves other neighboring states with impunity?

Part of the answer can be found in a budding segment of the nongovernmental sector, consisting of innocuously named pro-Russian groups like the “Eurasian Institute,” “Eurasian Choice,” and “The Earth Is Our Home.” Many of these organizations pop in and out of existence as needed — the “Peace Committee of Georgia” one week, something else the next — but they are often tied to the same group of pro-Russian ideologues and policy entrepreneurs who make regular pilgrimages to Moscow and, according to Georgian officials in the ruling party and the opposition, almost certainly receive Kremlin funding. Their common message isn’t high-church Russian apologia or Soviet nostalgia, but rather “Eurasianism” and “Orthodox civilization” — Kremlin shorthand for Putinism. Appeals to Georgian social conservatism, economic vulnerability, and lingering anger over past government abuses are winning converts within a population increasingly impatient with Georgia’s unrequited love affair with the West.

In mid-2014, Eurasianist groups made headlines for their raucous opposition to an anti-discrimination bill making its way through the Georgian parliament. Their opposition centered on language in the bill banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which opponents claimed was tantamount to promoting non-heterosexual lifestyles. But they didn’t come to the protests alone — accompanying the pro-Russian activists were unmistakably garbed clerics from the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The church, too, was nonplussed over the anti-discrimination bill and called for language protecting sexual minorities to be ejected. One of the oldest existing Christian churches in the world, the Georgian Orthodox Church is both a touchstone for Georgian nationalism and reliably polls as the most trusted institution in the country. But the church’s common cause with the Eurasianists was not limited to tactical alliances over anti-gay rhetoric. Although nominally in favor of Georgian membership in the European Union, influential factions within the Orthodox hierarchy openly stoke religious nationalism and express admiration for Russia.

Today, church representatives are increasingly seen as a vanguard for reactionary activity. In mid-2013, clergy members were on the front lines of a horrifying anti-gay pogrom in central Tbilisi. Church officials have justified protests against and attacks on Georgian Muslims. And church leaders have called the West “worse than Russia,” sometimes describing the 2008 Russian invasion as a kind of heavenly intervention against Western integration. Such language is echoed by Georgia’s Eurasianist NGOs.

The growing profile of pro-Russian organizations and the sharpening anti-Western stance of the church is converging with a third leg in an emerging pro-Russian triad: the revitalization of anti-Western political parties.

Since the 2012 change in power, pro-Russian politicians have risen from the darkest margins of Georgian political life into an increasingly viable political force.

Since the 2012 change in power, pro-Russian politicians have risen from the darkest margins of Georgian political life into an increasingly viable political force.

Onetime pro-Western advocate turned pro-Russian political agitator Nino Burjanadze has fashioned a political coalition aimed squarely at breaking Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic consensus. In presidential and local elections in 2013 and 2014, respectively, Burjanadze managed to get about 10 percent of the vote, armed with Eurasianist rhetoric and fueled by massive influxes of what was likely Russian money. And the rapidly growing Alliance of Patriots — a populist party with anti-Western leanings, which recently held a major rally in Tbilisi — won almost 5 percent in June 2014. If these numbers hold, parliamentary elections in 2016 could very well yield a very differently oriented Georgian government. A 15 percent result would be more than enough to send pro-Russian deputies into parliament in force, shattering cross-partisan foreign-policy unity and potentially playing kingmakers in coalition talks.

Irakli Alasania, Georgia’s former defense minister, has Russia on his mind. “There are very active pro-Russia groups and thousands of protesters who are against Western integration,” he told me recently, referring to the Alliance of Patriots rally. He expressed worry that the current government is downplaying a growing Russian threat. With his own Free Democrats now part of the parliamentary opposition, the ruling Georgian Dream coalition’s ranks of solidly pro-Western parties has noticeably thinned, and the leverage of socially conservative, protectionist factions within the coalition has increased.

But this is probably only the beginning. If trends hold, Georgia’s foreign-policy consensus — long taken for granted in the West — could begin to unravel in earnest. Although Georgian Dream, to its credit, has managed to skate the knife’s edge between geopolitical pragmatism and Euro-Atlantic enthusiasm, it is increasingly losing popularity among once-hopeful voters. As things stand, parliament in 2016 looks like it will be very different from today’s parliament. The pro-Western opposition United National Movement will likely see its 51 seats slashed by half or more. In its place is likely to be a collection of openly anti-Western deputies from Burjanadze’s coalition and the Alliance of Patriots. If it stays together, Georgian Dream may well remain the largest parliamentary bloc, but the introduction of large anti-Western groupings into parliament could compel it to dilute, or even abandon, its pro-Western policies out of political necessity.

This trajectory ought to be a cause for deep concern. Even a Georgia that tried to split its orientation between the West and Moscow would likely sink into the quicksand of Russian dominance, as have each of the other paragons of this strategy — Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Kazakhstan. This result would mean the consolidation of Russian geostrategic supremacy over the Caucasus and, with it, a complete Russian monopoly over trans-Eurasian energy and trade flows.

There are ways the West could throw a much-needed lifeline to Georgian liberals.

There are ways the West could throw a much-needed lifeline to Georgian liberals. While the association agreement with the European Union signed last June is surely a welcome symbol, and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area has great future potential, the real prize for most ordinary Georgians is the prospect of visa-free travel to the EU. If this is introduced this year, as widely hoped, this could be a real boon for Western credibility. And if not outright NATO membership, other strong gestures, such as U.S. major non-NATO ally status, would be a relatively painless upgrade that would enshrine what is essentially the status quo while recognizing Georgia’s long-outsized dedication and contributions to the Euro-Atlantic space.

What is clear is that the days of taking Georgia’s pro-Western consensus for granted are quickly coming to a close. Russian influence is resurgent across its periphery, from Eastern Europe to the Caucasus to Central Asia, and Georgia remains a long-coveted prize. It may have taken successive military interventions, information warfare, and influence operations, but Moscow looks to be turning a corner in its bid to regain Georgia — both by hook and by crook.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 21st, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


Israel offers to mediate talks between Ukraine, Russia.

by Maxim A. Suchkov – posted February 1, 2015 – Al-Monitor.

Maxim A. Suchkov, a former Fulbright visiting fellow at Georgetown University (2010–11), is currently a fellow at the Institute for Strategic Studies at the North Caucasian city of Pyatigorsk, Russia, and a contributor to the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Eurasia Outlook. On Twitter: @Max_A_Suchkov

Read more: www.al-monitor.com/pulse/original…

Summary? – Print Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman believes his country is uniquely positioned to negotiate with Russia and Ukraine.

On Jan. 26, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman visited Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. While the encounter took place during the 70th anniversary observance of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz, the two diplomats took the opportunity to check up on their busy bilateral agenda. They touched primarily on six main issues — the overall situation in the Middle East, Russia’s role in the region, the course of the “5+1” negotiations on Iranian nuclear program, Lebanon, the situation in Syria, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the eve of his meeting with the Russian foreign minister, in an interview with the Russian media agency RIA Novosti, Liberman said Israel would be prepared, if necessary, to mediate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.

The statement drew mixed reactions from both Israel and Russia, but the very intent, if it is at all serious, could be interesting to think about.

Over the more than yearlong conflict in Ukraine, Israel turned out to be neutral when it comes to Russia’s actions in its neighboring country. Israel’s diplomats were not present during the vote on the US-supported UN resolution condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which made it look as if Israel were avoiding showing its stance on the issue. Although Tel Aviv explained that the vote coincided with a strike of Israel’s foreign affairs workers, few believed this explanation. Later, Israel refused to join the US-led sanctions regime against Russia. In both instances, the Obama administration, which cannot boast good relations with the Netanyahu government, took it as a sign of ingratitude toward Israel’s prime strategic ally at a time when America needed it most.

Essentially, while certainly not an act of support for Russian policies, it also was a sign of no opposition. At the initial stages of the war in Ukraine, in early 2014, the Israeli foreign minister, speaking on a TV program, said that “everybody understands that the situation [in Ukraine] is about standing up for the interests of each party [Russia and the US] in accordance with their own foreign policy courses.” That was a message that Israelis see the situation as a conflict of interests, not a conflict of principles. At the same interview, he declined any meddling with this conflict as a mediator between Russia and the US over Ukraine, saying Israel had enough to worry about with its own challenges.

The Israelis insisted, however, that neutrality didn’t mean inaction. A year hence, Tel Aviv wants to raise its political profile as a peacemaker, not between the Kremlin and the White House, but between Moscow and Kiev.

Indeed, as surprising as it may sound, Israel is uniquely positioned to mediate the conflict and ease the “Ukraine-Russia fatigue” that dominates the European security agenda. In this regard, Israel has three principal advantages. First, it clearly enjoys equally good relations with both Russia and Ukraine — a political luxury few nations can boast in today’s much-polarized context. Certainly, Russian-Israeli relations are far from being ideal, with the majority of the discrepancies lying in different priorities in the Middle East rooted in their own vision of national interests and historic political trajectories. At the same time, the Israeli leadership believes good relations with Russia are a “perceived necessity.”

Second, Israel possesses a key foreign policy resource — the large Jewish diaspora both in Russia and Ukraine. The number of Jews in the two countries is hard to estimate. Due to a well-known history of oppression, many had to flee, while others decline to identify themselves. Current estimates vary: in Russia from 190,000 to 228,000 to 380,000. That represents approximately 0.14% of Russia’s population and 1.7% of the global Jewish population, making Russia the country with the seventh-largest Jewish population. In Ukraine, the Jewish population was historically greater. At present, the figures range from 67,000 to 80,000 (0.16% national share and 0.6% global share). Other accounts say the Jewish population is as high as 300,000.

Most important, many Jewish figures occupy top positions in politics and business and have had significant influence on the two spheres. Therefore, Tel Aviv has a direct interest in their security and peaceful settlement of the crisis. Several influential Israeli public figures and politicians, including some from the Knesset, are actively raising awareness against more frequent instances of anti-Semitism in Ukraine.

Finally, the number of Israelis of Ukrainian and Russian descent in Israel itself is high. Many Israeli natives of the post-Soviet states occupying top political leadership positions have contributed to shaping a balanced stance on the conflict. While opinions on the crisis in Ukraine within this group are split, their expertise and action helped the State of Israel shape a policy that remained firm to outside pressure, including that of the US.

Liberman, a native of the Republic of Moldova, said, “It is precisely because we are from these countries that we can understand both parties. … If someone told me some time ago that Russia and Ukraine would become enemies, I would have told them to see a doctor.” Therefore, for a large group of Israeli policymakers, the crisis in Ukraine has a clear-cut personal connection. Yet at the same time, being foreign statesmen, they take a neutral position that potentially makes them “natural mediators.”

This is the benchmark data. In the end, however, the proposal represents the intent of only a fragment of the Israeli political spectrum and society — those coming from the post-Soviet space — and finds opposition from other Israeli groups.

In truth, taking the mediator’s burden in the conflict that already involves — in one form or another — a dozen actors carries high risks for Israel’s reputation and would engender an enormous, perhaps impossible, responsibility; in other words, it is a thorny path that may bear little fruit. At the same time, when no negotiation format seems to be working, Israel offers a straw that Russia and Ukraine could consider grabbing. Israel’s image as a middleman in a conflict may be something not many are accustomed to, and it does have some legitimate limitations. But what it can do is offer an important channel of communication.

———————-

Bennett, Liberman battle for defense portfolio
Ben Caspit

Read more: www.al-monitor.com/pulse/original…

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 16th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

From: Adriana Troxler  adriana.troxler at oikos-international.o…

 chairpubpol at post.tau.ac.il.

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

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ARCTIC – IS IT POSSIBLE?

Author : Kapil Narula
10 Feb 2015
 www.maritimeindia.org/CommentryVi…

The Arctic is a unique region which plays a very important role in the earth’s ecosystem. It regulates the earth’s climate, influences the ocean currents, has rich biodiversity and is home to a substantial indigenous population. Therefore, sustainability should be a prerequisite condition for development in the Arctic.

‘Sustainability’ is the ability of a system to continue a desired behaviour indefinitely. An example of such a sustainable system is tropical rain forests in which the inherent processes continue in a cyclic manner to support life. On the other hand, ‘development’ is the process of growth. When these two words are conjoined it implies ‘continuous growth’. Hence the word ‘Sustainable Development’ is actually an oxymoron because any kind of growth cannot be indefinite.


While ‘Sustainable Development’ is rightly understood as a multi-dimensional concept, having economic, environmental and social dimensions, an extended definition also includes inter and intra-generational equity as well as inter-species equity, as its fundamental principles. However, people often misunderstand it as simultaneous and continued growth in all three dimensions. This understanding is flawed as these dimensions have competing goals and therefore there has to be a trade-off between these goals. As an example, any kind of economic growth has negative environmental externalities and there may be accompanying social impacts which may lead to collapse of societies. Therefore sustainable development needs to be perceived in a way that explicitly conveys the core idea that the growth of the economy and the society is constrained by environmental limits.


If ‘Sustainable Development’ of the Arctic region is viewed from the above perspective, one is forced to define environmental limits prior to looking at economic opportunities in the region. Further, the impact of development in the region on culture, societies and the traditional way of living of the indigenous people should also be minimal. Hence it is important that any activities which are undertaken in the Arctic region should be carefully examined for the foreseeable impacts which they might have on the region as well as on the ecosystem of the earth.

Let us consider two major issues which are threatening the sustainability of the Arctic region: ‘resources’ and ‘routes’. The scramble between Arctic nations to control both these and the intent of extra regional powers to share the trickledown benefits, have resulted in countries engaging in active geopolitics on the Arctic. While some countries like India are keenly interested in science in order to increase their understanding of climate change, other countries such as South Korea are looking at the economic benefits which they can reap as fallout of increased shipping in the region.

Let’s talk about resources first. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the region contains 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 per cent of its oil. These valuable energy resources have been fossilised over millions of years. From the viewpoint of sustainability, the ‘strong sustainability’ condition defines that the ‘economic capital’ (produced capital such as infrastructure, knowledge etc.), and ‘natural capital’ (environmental assets such as fossil fuels, biodiversity and other ecosystem structures) are complimentary, but not interchangeable. This implies that natural capital needs to be preserved sufficiently, as it has to be passed to the next generation and cannot be replaced with economic capital. Hence the amount of fossil fuels and minerals which can be extracted from the Arctic region should be limited to the regeneration rates of these resources. Obviously, this would mean that only miniscule amounts of resources can be extracted and therefore the strong sustainability condition is difficult to meet, in the case of energy and mineral resources. An alternate interpretation for resources can be as follows: the non-renewable resources which are extracted should be replaced by an equivalent amount of substitutes for that resource. This interpretation can however serve as a prerequisite condition for resource extraction, if the Arctic has to be developed sustainably.

The strong sustainability condition is often diluted to a ‘weak sustainability’ condition which allows unconditional substitution between economic and natural capital. This implies that natural resources may be used as long as economic capital is increased. Proponents of this approach claim that the energy which is extracted now, can be used to increase economic capital, so that the total amount of capital for the next generation remains unchanged. However, most often this weak sustainability condition is also violated and the extracted resources are consumed by the existing generation without a thought for the future generations.

On the issue of new shipping routes, the strong sustainability condition in the Arctic region would be met as long as the rates of waste generation from shipping and related activities do not exceed the assimilative capacity of the Arctic eco-system. This condition therefore requires that while the shipping routes may be used, there should be stringent environmental regulations controlling the operation of shipping in the region. Notwithstanding the strict enforcement of rules, the environmental risks remains high due the uncertain nature of floating ice, harsh climatic condition, risk of human or technical failure and the fragile nature of the environment. An oil spill either from offshore drilling or accidents at sea, marine pollution due to leaks and untreated waste disposal at sea are other challenges, which will have an impact on the marine environment in the region. However, as long as the environmental impact on the ecosystem is within the acceptable limits, shipping in the region could be classified as sustainable. But the question is “Do we have enough know-how on the Arctic ecosystem to even attempt defining such limits?” Further, what is the guarantee that there would be no accidents such as those involving the drilling ships, ‘Noble Discoverer’ and the ‘Kulluk’, operated by Shell off the Alaskan coast in 2013 which led to suspension of further drilling in the region. The answers to these questions are not easy and hence prior to allowing navigation of ships through the ice floes infested waters, one must carefully examine the environmental risks which the region is exposed to, if unrestricted shipping is allowed.

It can, therefore, be concluded that there are many challenges to sustainable development of the Arctic region. However, such a possibility exists, provided stringent rules and regulations are followed for shipping and a limited amount of resource extraction is permitted in the region. How would this development unfold, is a question which none can predict, but one can only hope that the Arctic Council adopts some guidelines which imposes certain limits and restriction on shipping and resource exploration activities in the Arctic region.

**************************************************

(*The author is a Research Fellow at the National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Indian Navy or National Maritime Foundation. He can be reached at  kapilnarula at yahoo.com)

Kapil Narula
Cdr (Indian Navy)
Research Fellow
National Maritime Foundation
Airport Road, NH-8
New Delhi- 110 010
Ph:+91-11-26156520 Extn: 112(O)

AND

PhD Research Scholar
Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research
Goregaon (East), Mumbai

ARTICLE WRITTEN “towards the run up to the Indian National Maritime Foundation Annual Conference.”
The National Maritime Foundation is dedicated to “Nurture India’s Maritime Interests.”

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 11th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


New opportunity for EU support for climate action in Eastern Partnership countries

from: Zsolt Lengyel –  zsolt.lengyel at climaeast.eu

February 10, 2015

Dear Madam/Sir,

We are pleased to inform you that the Clima East Expert Facility (EF) has a new round for applications for support from eligible organisations involved with climate actions, targeting both mitigation and adaptation in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

In this round we will also accept collaborative applications from two or more beneficiary organizations. This track should enable sectoral ministries, other national or local administration bodies, and in particular civil society organisations, to contribute successfully to the definition, development and delivery of national climate policy and actions.


The Clima East Expert Facility is one of the channels through which the European Commission funded Clima East project provides technical assistance to Partner Countries’ stakeholders to facilitate the development, adoption and implementation of effective and appropriate climate change mitigation and adaptation policies and actions.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 8th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2015 – GENEVA HIGHLIGHTS – First day of the new start-up Session:

On Sunday morning, the ADP opening plenary took place. In the morning and afternoon, the ADP contact group on item 3 (implementation of all the elements of Decision 1/CP.17) convened.

ADP OPENING PLENARY

COP 20 President Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Minister of the Environment, Peru, called on parties to maintain the momentum generated in Lima and work responsibly, efficiently and in a spirit of compromise. ADP Co-Chair Ahmed Djoghlaf (Algeria) called on delegates “to keep the promise made to our children in Durban.”

ITEM 3: Co-Chair Daniel Reifsnyder (US) underscored the objective of delivering a negotiating text on Friday and that the main task of the ADP contact group will be to ensure that the text fully reflects parties’ positions. Parties agreed to the proposed organization of work.

South Africa, for G-77/CHINA, noted that: the elements for a draft negotiating text annexed to Decision 1/CP.20 (Lima Call for Climate Action) are not fully negotiated; streamlining of options must be based on consensus; and parties’ views must be reflected in the text in a balanced manner.

The EU urged progress on: ensuring dynamism in the 2015 agreement through regular review of ambition; clarifying how the agreement will deliver transparency and accountability with respect to mitigation; delivering climate resilience through adaptation and climate finance; and enhancing mitigation before 2020. Australia, for the UMBRELLA GROUP, proposed distinguishing content that needs to be included in a legal agreement from content that is more appropriate for a COP decision. Switzerland, for the ENVIRONMENTAL INTEGRITY GROUP, proposed break-out groups to address specific issues and urged focusing on streamlining the text.

ADP CONTACT GROUP

GENERAL/OBJECTIVE: On Section C “General/Objective” Co-Chair Reifsnyder suggested bracketing it and reflecting that some parties feel that the Section is not necessary.

Parties made suggestions to add text and identified opportunities for consolidation.

The US questioned the need for a separate Section on objectives. BRAZIL identified the Section as necessary to explain why a new agreement is needed. SAUDI ARABIA suggested omitting the Section, but if retained, then reflecting the objective in one to two paragraphs. Several parties suggested focusing the Section on the agreement’s overall objective and including details on how to achieve this objective elsewhere. SINGAPORE called for addressing the relationship between the Convention and the new agreement.

Maldives, for AOSIS, called for a reference to science on keeping the average temperature increase below 1.5 °C. JAMAICA proposed text on ensuring significant and rapid global greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions of at least 70-90% by 2050. The EU underscored the need to reach zero net emissions of CO2 and other long-lived GHGs by the end of the century to ensure consistency with the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. SWITZERLAND agreed on the need to reflect the objective of achieving zero net GHG emissions. BRAZIL warned that references to the IPCC could lead to politicization.

Sudan, for the AFRICAN GROUP, highlighted a new proposal on loss and damage. AOSIS underscored the need for high ambition from all parties; interlinkages between mitigation and adaptation; and addressing loss and damage.

BRAZIL lamented that parts of the text are not in line with the Lima outcome, such as references to “evolving CBDR.” He supported undertakings by all Parties. The US proposed categorizing developed and developing countries into two new annexes.

Malaysia, for the LMDCs, called for addressing adaptation with the same urgency as mitigation. He proposed emphasizing, inter alia, the link between developing countries’ mitigation actions and enhanced support by developed countries; and that developed countries must not resort to any unilateral measures on climate change. SAUDI ARABIA suggested combining text on ensuring resilience and adaptive capacity with text on ensuring that all investments are resilient to climate change.

Several parties supported including text on gender equality. Tuvalu, for the LDCs, identified similarities between the proposals. MEXICO, supported by UGANDA, CHILE and BOLIVIA, also suggested text on human rights. Tuvalu, for LDCs, called for language on universal participation, human rights and rights of people with disabilities.

Co-Chair Reifsnyder indicated that informal discussion on the Section can be reconsidered at a later stage. He expressed satisfaction with progress made and said parties’ proposals together with revised Section C will be made available online promptly.

MITIGATION: In the afternoon, the contact group focused on Section D on mitigation.

Argentina, for the LMDCs, underscored, inter alia, that commitments, contributions and actions should comply with the Convention’s principles and obligations, with developed country parties undertaking quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives (QELROs) that are comparable, verifiable and implemented without any conditions. She added that developing country actions may include REDD+ and joint adaptation and mitigation, in accordance with their specific circumstances and needs.

Chile, for AILAC, suggested text on distinguishing between ex ante and ex post review of INDCs, proposing that all parties make successive mitigation commitments. On the use of market mechanisms in the land-use sector, he suggested including references to: environmental integrity; avoiding double counting; and a levy to support climate change resilience in developing countries.

Panama, for CfRN, called for: the REDD+ framework be reflected and anchored in the new agreement; applying safeguards; and strengthening institutional arrangements under the Convention based on Decision 10/CP.19 on support for the implementation of mitigation activities in the forest sector by developing countries.

The EU, inter alia: emphasized accounting rules and suggested bringing these from the Section on transparency of action and support, into the Section on mitigation. He proposed separating text on land use and market mechanisms. He highlighted the need for parties to periodically review and update their commitments. AUSTRALIA proposed text on national schedules and intended mitigation contributions, including that each party individually update their respective national schedules in accordance with modalities to be agreed by the governing body.

Kenya, for the AFRICAN GROUP, emphasized developed countries’ obligation to provide MOI, and that social and economic development and poverty eradication are first and overriding priorities for developing countries. Maldives, for SIDS, proposed, inter alia, that proceeds from the use of market mechanisms will be used for meeting the costs of adaptation in the most vulnerable developing countries.

Underlying the importance of text on peaking of global GHG emissions as soon as possible, TANZANIA proposed text specifying these efforts be quantitative and time-bound for developed countries and aspirational for developing countries.

The US proposed replacing references to developed or developing countries throughout the text be replaced with reference to new annexes y and x. He proposed text to provide clarity on how parties engage in consultations on future cycles of contributions, specifying that parties should submit INDCs no later than six months before the beginning of each cycle. CANADA proposed text suggesting that all parties prepare national inventory reports in accordance with IPCC guidance.

BRAZIL suggested text on an economic mechanism comprising an emissions trading system (ETS) and an enhanced Clean Development Mechanism (CDM+). He explained that parties with quantified mitigation targets could use ETS and CDM+ to supplement domestic action, and developing countries may participate in CDM+ projects on a voluntary basis. He emphasized voluntary cancellations of Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) to enhance environmental integrity, saying cancelled CERs could be used to meet quantified financing targets or pledges but not mitigation targets.

SENEGAL stated that market mechanisms and actions in the land-use sector should contribute to the sustainable development of the host countries. He proposed a centrally governed market mechanism under the Convention, building on existing market mechanisms. ETHIOPIA announced a new submission clarifying the details of market mechanisms in the 2015 agreement.

SOUTH AFRICA stressed review as an integral part of a dynamic contribution cycle. She proposed text on common accounting rules to be developed by the COP. NEW ZEALAND noted that accounting rules must be more explicitly addressed in Section D, and, with NORWAY, stressed the importance of avoiding double-counting.

BOLIVIA stressed the need for inclusion of alternative, non-market, and joint mitigation and adaptation approaches, and for adding text on “the protection and integrity of Mother Earth.” On a global emission budget, ETHIOPIA proposed including a reference to national per capita emissions and taking into account historical emissions.

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IN THE CORRIDORS

On a cold but sunny Sunday morning, delegates arrived in the historic Palais des Nations for the first of several negotiating sessions leading to Paris. Many felt the meeting got off to a good start. The opening plenary was described as “surprisingly short” and many expressed appreciation for the gesture by many negotiating groups to submit their opening statements electronically in the interest of time.

The ADP morning contact group made good progress and closed ahead of schedule. In the afternoon contact group, the mitigation section of the text grew in length with a total of 52 new proposals made. Regardless, that meeting closed an hour ahead of schedule. Pleased with the progress, Co-Chair Reifsnyder joked that continuing with such efficiency, “we will definitely have an agreement in Paris – or even before.”

Having consulted with the negotiating group leaders, the Co-Chairs proposed to speed things up and collect all new textual proposals on Monday in order to focus the rest of the session on streamlining the text. On that note, many delegates said they anticipated a late evening to finalize negotiating groups’ internal coordinations on new text.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 8th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

The eighth part of the second session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Ad-Hoc Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP – Ad-Hoc Durban Platform) will be held from 8-13 February 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland.

From:  unfccc.int/meetings/geneva_feb_20…

Negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – the conference is the first conference of several meetings in preparation for the Paris Climate Change Conference that will be held in France in December. The Paris Conference is mandated to adopt “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties.” The agreement will be implemented from 2020 onwards.

The body tasked with developing the Paris Agreement is the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP). In Geneva, the ADP will hold the eighth part of its second session (ADP 2-8).

Updated as of 7 February
pdf-icon Overview schedule (110 kB)
pdf-icon Schedule of the contact group work (168 kB)
In Focus: Meetings of the ADP

Scenario note by the Co-Chairs on the eighth part of the second session of the ADP
 CADP at unfccc.int

The Cochairs are: Mr. Ahmed Djoghlaf and Mr. Daniel Reifsnyder and Ms. Yang Liu as the Rapporteur of the ADP, to serve until the conclusion of the ADP session to be held in conjunction with COP 21 in 2015.

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IISD RS @ UNFCCC ADP 2.8 | 8-13 February 2015 | Geneva …
www.iisd.ca/climate/adp/adp2-8

IISD Reporting Services, through its Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), will cover the Geneva Climate Change Conference – February 2015, from 8 to 13 February 2015 …

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ECO is a daily newsletter published by a group of NGOs active at UN Conferences – not as a reporting service like the ENB of the IISD that is backed financially by several Western governments, but rather as an outlet of several opinionated Civil Society groupings.

We post here the e-mail we received from ECO as posted at the opening of ADP 2.8


Managing the bumps on the Road to Paris.

The dust from COP20 has (barely) settled and now with just 10 months left before COP21 in Paris, Parties need to come together on the way forward to the 2015 agreement.

In Geneva, Parties will start from where they left off the draft negotiating text that is annexed to the Lima Call for Climate Action decision of COP 20 of the UNFCCC. The current draft has many options on most issues, some of them highly divergent.

There are several key issues that need to be grappled with if we are to get a robust and ambitious post-2020 agreement in December. One of the most difficult is coming to a shared understanding of CBDR&RC (differentiation). This is at the heart of many of the divergent areas, and the differences were just papered over with the last-minute compromise of language in Lima.
ECO believes that the earlier Parties attempt to move towards a common understanding on this issue, the easier it will become for the negotiations to make progress towards an ambitious outcome.


The need for a clear and transparent review mechanism within the Paris agreement is another issue. Even though there was no agreement in Lima to conduct a review of the first round of INDCs, an institutionalised review mechanism that not only assesses progress, but also enables countries to plug the ambition gap, is key to the environmental integrity of the agreement.

Civil society needs to be an active participant within this review and it should be conducted in earnest, and in 5-year intervals. The UNFCCC has in the past seen many reviews that only point to the problem without enabling solutions. The review mechanism within the 2015 agreement needs to be different: it should enable and equip countries to bridge the gap between what science requires and what is being put on the table by each country.


This week, Parties should work to narrow down the options in the current text and clarify ideas they had presented earlier in order to produce an acceptable legal negotiating text by the end of the session. As parties start discussing Section C of the draft negotiating text today, here are some suggestions.

First, the agreement should state an obvious fact which even ECO’s uncle and aunt would understand: the lower the level of mitigation ambition, the higher will be the adaptation needs, and the loss and damage from climate change impacts and the associated costs thereof, which will require much higher support to vulnerable countries and people who have not caused climate change. A good basis for addressing this continuum of mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage in Paragraph 4 of the current text. In today’s thematic session, Parties should support this language, and make further efforts to operationalise it.

ECO believes the phase out of fossil fuel emissions and phase in of 100% renewable energy as early as 2050 should be the long-tern goal of 2015 agreement. Language reflecting this option should be added to the text coming out of Geneva. The text should also note that achievement of this goal rests on up ramping mitigation ambition within the pre-2020 period, as well as countries putting ambitious INDCs on the table in Paris. Such timely action will not only reduce costs in the longer run, but can ensure that climate impacts are curtailed early on.

While these bumps collectively might appear daunting, they can be overcome through a mix of political will and good faith negotiating. People, businesses, and local authorities across the world are already showing the way; ECO calls on Parties here in Geneva to do the same.

Pathway to zero: Career coaches assert that in order to be successful, you need to have a clear goal for what you want to achieve, then develop a pathway to get you there.

Today’s negotiations on the long term goal of the Paris agreement are, therefore, critical to help define our ultimate objective. That is: to reduce carbon emissions to zero and achieve a 100% renewable-powered world by 2050.


To have a likely chance to remain within the maximum 2°C warming threshold, the IPCC has provided us with a carbon budget of 1000 gigatonnes (CO2eq). That’s it. It’s all we can spend until we achieve the magic zero by 2050. If current trends continue, we’ll have spent a full third of it by 2020.


A growing number of companies, have endorsed staying within this carbon budget, recognising that the benefits of action far outweigh the costs of climate impacts. Unilever’s CEO is just one of many calling for zero emissions by 2050.


The good news is that economics, as well as climate considerations, are already defining the end of the fossil era. China’s 2014 decline in coal use shows that with political determination and strong targets and measures, the world’s highest emitting country can peak their coal use well before 2020.

The Economist recently reported that Saudi Arabia’s profligate energy consumption means that “the country may have no oil to export by 2030” ? a real spur for domestic innovation and diversification.

Clean energy is already the low cost option. In Jamaica, the price of solar power is the same as that of wholesale fossil-fuelled power and in Nicaragua, electricity from wind is half as expensive as power from traditional sources. Renewables are rapidly becoming cheaper all over the world, making the 100% renewable goal ever more attractive, and the decline of fossil fuels an ever-clearer reality.


And back here in Geneva, much of what needs to be in the text for today is already there. A few changes to C3.1 Option b, so that it requires global GHG emissions to fall by 70% (not 50%) and to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050, gets us to where we need to be. Adding a reminder that we need to transform the energy system so that we have “100% sustainable and renewable energy that meets the needs of all” seems like a goal to endorse.


As Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, put it: going for zero emissions by 2050 “will drive innovation, grow jobs, build prosperity and secure a better world. Why would we wait any longer to do that?”

Human rights protections for all:

As you, dear negotiators, tackle Section C of the elements paper today, ECO urges you to think not just about numbers and principles, but about people. There should be unifying language in the general, operational section of the draft agreement text that recognises the human dimensions of climate change. We suggest:

“Parties shall, in all climate change-related actions, respect, protect, promote and fulfill human rights for all”.

240 organisations endorsed this language in a submission to the ADP co-chairs yesterday. It’s also what each of the 76 independent experts of the UN Human Rights Council recommended in a joint statement to the UNFCCC Parties during COP20.

Looks familiar, right? Yes, yes, it’s a lot like what’s in the shared vision of the Cancun Agreements. Since Cancun, however, we have noticed that this reference hasn’t done the job of ensuring that rights are adequately considered in climate policies. This language in Section C will help ensure that these principles apply to all pillars of the Convention.

Today is the day to make sure it lives on in Paris!

Why, you ask? Well, we can’t escape the fact that climate change has human consequences. The lives and livelihoods of literally billions of people are riding on what comes out of this process, and this language is relevant to every element of the negotiating text.

It’s also nothing new. Parties already have human rights obligations. This language, as in the Cancun Agreement’s shared vision, helps spell that out in the context of climate change. And it helps make sure that Parties are looking out for their own people. No matter what delegation or constituency you represent, you care about your people. ECO knows you do. After all, you are a person too.

So as we kick off this week of negotiations, ECO and 240 organisations call on you to make sure Section C ensures that Parties respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights for all. That shouldn’t be controversial, so just go do it!



When neutrality undermines Integrity:

When ECO thinks of Switzerland we think of skiing, watches, neutrality, delicious chocolate and of course, the Environmental Integrity Group.

ECO appreciates that Switzerland negotiates as part of a group with the stated priority of “environmental integrity”, but we wonder about Switzerland’s own integrity when it comes to its domestic emissions and commitments?

During the Multilateral Assessment in Lima, Switzerland became very evasive when asked why it would not opt for a conditional target of negative 30% emission reductions by 2020. Perhaps it’s because the country, to date, has merely achieved stabilisation of its absolute emissions. Switzerland offers population growth as a cheesy excuse for this lack of ambition. However, there is much more that Switzerland can do—like instituting policies to switch its population off of high-emitting oil heating systems, reducing per capita car ownership, addressing the startling fact that that average Swiss citizen racks up double the annual air miles of people in neighbouring countries.

ECO hopes that Switzerland will admit it has been off piste when it comes to climate ambition, and demonstrate its integrity by delivering on its 2014 United Nations Climate Summit announcement that it will become carbon neutral.

Minister Doris Leuthard, who made that commitment in New York last September, is in a perfect position to deliver on it. How could she not be when she’s responsible for Switzerland’s policies on climate, energy, transportation (including aviation), forestry, environment, spatial planning and (tele)communication. It’s exactly these sectors that need to change for Switzerland to make an ambitious effort in its INDC submission. ECO also seriously hopes the rumor that Switzerland intends to use carbon markets rather than striving for ambitious emission reductions at home is false. How would this fulfill a vision of carbon neutrality?

To top it off, Switzerland’s move in Lima to avoid talking about the next steps for climate finance makes it even harder to see how Switzerland can claim to be a champion of environmental integrity. ECO calls on Switzerland to check its watch and realise how late in the day it is for climate action. On this issue, being neutral isn’t a virtue – rather, it’s time for bold action.

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

From the Offices of George Soros:

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Yesterday, the New York Times carried an op-ed by George Soros and Bernard-Henri Lévy on the remarkable experiment underway in Ukraine. They write, “Maidan’s supporters have moved from opposition to nation building” — launching radical reforms and taking on entrenched state bureaucracy and the business oligarchy. If these reforms are to succeed, the new Ukraine first must survive its ongoing conflict with Russia. To do so, it urgently needs financial assistance from the West.

In today’s New York Times, columnist Thomas Friedman quoted George’s view that, “there is a new Ukraine that is determined to be different from the old Ukraine. … What makes it unique is that it is not only willing to fight but engage in executing a set of radical reforms. It is up against the old Ukraine that has not disappeared … and up against a very determined design by President Putin to destabilize it and destroy it. But it is determined to assert the independence and European orientation of the new Ukraine.”

All best,

Michael Vachon

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Save the New Ukraine
New York Times
George Soros and Bernard-Henri Lévy

A NEW Ukraine was born a year ago in the pro-European protests that helped to drive President Viktor F. Yanukovych from power. And today, the spirit that inspired hundreds of thousands to gather in the Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square, is stronger than ever, even as it is under direct military assault from Russian forces supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The new Ukraine seeks to become the opposite of the old Ukraine, which was demoralized and riddled with corruption. The transformation has been a rare experiment in participatory democracy; a noble adventure of a people who have rallied to open their nation to modernity, democracy and Europe. And this is just the beginning.

This experiment is remarkable for finding expression not only in defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity from the separatists, but also in constructive work. Maidan’s supporters have moved from opposition to nation building.

Many of those in government and Parliament are volunteers who have given up well-paying jobs to serve their country. Natalie Jaresko, a former investment banker, now works for a few hundred dollars a month as the new finance minister. Volunteers are helping Ukraine’s one million internally displaced people as well as working as advisers to ministers and in local government.

The new Ukraine, however, faces a potent challenge from the old Ukraine. The old Ukraine is solidly entrenched in a state bureaucracy that has worked hand in hand with a business oligarchy. And the reformers are also up against the manifest hostility of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, who wants at all costs to destabilize Ukraine.

One drawback is that the new Ukraine is a well-kept secret, not just from the rest of the world but also from the Ukrainian public. Radical reforms have been hatched but not yet implemented.

It is instructive to compare Ukraine today with Georgia in 2004. When he became president that year, Mikheil Saakashvili immediately replaced the hated traffic police and removed the roadblocks used to extort bribes from drivers. The public recognized straight away that things had changed for the better.

Unfortunately, Ukraine has not yet found a similar demonstration project. Kiev’s police force is to be restructured, but if you need a driver’s license, you must still pay the same bribe as before.

Mr. Saakashvili was a revolutionary leader who first stamped out corruption but eventually turned it into a state monopoly. By contrast, Ukraine is a participatory democracy that does not rely on a single leader but on checks and balances. Democracies move slowly, but that may prove an advantage in the long run.

The big question is, will there be a long run? Although Russia is in a deepening financial crisis, Mr. Putin appears to have decided that he can destroy the new Ukraine before it can fully establish itself and before an economic downturn destroys his own popularity.

The Russian president is stepping up the military and financial pressure on Ukraine. Over the weekend, the city of Mariupol came under attack from forces that NATO said were backed by Russian troops, undermining the pretense that the separatists are acting on their own.

Ukraine will defend itself militarily, but it urgently needs financial assistance. The immediate need is for $15 billion. But to ensure Ukraine’s survival and encourage private investment, Western powers need to make a political commitment to provide additional sums, depending on the extent of the Russian assault and the success of Ukraine’s reforms.

The reformers, who want to avoid the leakages that were characteristic of the old Ukraine, have expressed their wish to be held accountable for all expenditures. They are passing extensive legislation but also want the International Monetary Fund to go on exercising oversight.

Unfortunately, just as democracies are slow to move, an association of democracies like the European Union is even slower. Mr. Putin is exploiting this.

It is not only the future of Ukraine that’s at stake, but that of the European Union itself. The loss of Ukraine would be an enormous blow; it would empower a Russian alternative to the European Union based on the rule of force rather than the rule of law. But if Europe delivered the financial assistance that Ukraine needs, Mr. Putin would eventually be forced to abandon his aggression. At the moment, he can argue that Russia’s economic troubles are caused by Western hostility, and the Russian public finds his argument convincing.

If, however, Europe is generous with its financial assistance, a stable and prosperous Ukraine will provide an example that makes clear that the blame for Russia’s financial troubles lies with Mr. Putin. The Russian public might then force him to emulate the new Ukraine. Europe’s reward would be a new Russia that has turned from a potent strategic threat into a potential strategic partner. Those are the stakes.

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

We find it astonishing how not even the Alternate Media sees the whole picture. The Glenn Greenwald following article is surely a great further contribution to his efforts to open hidden content – but even he missed a more up-to date point – the fact that January 27, 2015 happens to be the date much of Europe commemorates the freeing 70 years ago, January 27, 1945, of the Auschwitz death camp by the Russian Army. Simply put – even at the UN – January 27 is HMD – Holocaust Memorial Day while quite a few Muslim/Islamic States are effectively Holocaust deniers something outlawed in civilized States. I am just not sure where the Saudis present and past stand on this issue.

Many European leaders will be at Auschwitz that day but Putin will not be there. Oh well – he just was not invited by the Poles! Now come the news that President Obama will be in Ryadh! Ryadh of all places? A town where Jews are not allowed even as tourists – in 2015?

We did not condemn President Obama for not going to the Paris reunion of Heads of State after the ISIS/AQAP attacks on that Jewish supermarket and Charlie Hebdo. We felt that he was right to let the Europeans deal with this by themselves – rather then make a token appearance – but Auschwitz is just another matter. It was the US that took on the responsibility to save Europe from itself, and at that time the World at large as well. And that is something that calls for the US participation at highest level at this 70th commemoration that happens to be when the World is threatened again – and this time by Islamic fanatics – and don’t forget it – that started out in Saudi Arabia – and the White House and Congress choices seem all wrong.
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So far we read that Bundespräsident Joachim Gauck, France President Francois Hollande, King Willem-Alexander of the Niederlands and Queen Maxima, Crown Princess Viktoria of Schweden, and Crown Prince Haakon von Norway are among the Heads of State that are going to Auschwitz for the January 27, 2015 memorial. Then the announcement that President Obama and Vice-President Biden go to Ryadh. President Obama even shortened his all-important trip to India to pass on the way back through Ryadh. This seemingly detours now also President Hollande and Prime Minister Cameron who seemingly will switch from going to Auschwitz and go to Ryadh instead. Oh well – this smells of oil. Today this means that the new Saudi King will be asked to reciprocate by continuing the policy of cheap oil that hurts mainly Iran and Russia while being a boon to short-sighted industrial economies.

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It seems like somebody had an after-thought in the White House – and voila:

The White House – Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
January 17, 2015
President Obama Announces Presidential Delegation to Attend the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau

President Barack Obama today announced the designation of a Presidential Delegation to Oswicim, Poland, to attend the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27, 2015.

The Honorable Jacob J. Lew, Secretary of the Department of Treasury, will lead the delegation.

Members of the Presidential Delegation:

The Honorable Stephen D. Mull, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Poland, Department of State

The Honorable Crystal Nix-Hines, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Department of State

The Honorable David Saperstein, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Department of State

Dr. Charles A. Kupchan, Senior Director for European Affairs, National Security Council

Mr. Nicholas Dean, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Department of State

Ms. Aviva Sufian, Special Envoy for U.S. Holocaust Survivor Services, Department of Health and Human Services

Mr. Israel Arbeiter, Auschwitz-Birkenau Survivor

Mrs. Irene Weiss, Auschwitz-Birkenau Survivor

Mr. David Harris, Executive Director, American Jewish Committee

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But this is a Jewish delegation headed by the White House Jewish appointee – this is not the political delegation that the hour demands. Why is the trip to the family of the Tyrant King more important to President Obama and then – seemingly also Congress – did not yet think of sending someone to the Auschwitz Memorial?

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Another e-mail we just got is from Antony Beevor of the Guardian
–  www.theguardian.com/commentisfree…he tells us that Putin does not go to the Auschwitz Memorial because the Poles did not invite him – and this is a terrible mistake of the Europeans – to let the Poles take such a stand.

The note starts: “Why Vladimir Putin should be at the Auschwitz memorial ceremony.
We should forget neither the Soviet Union’s role in liberating the camps nor its antisemitic blind spots.”

It continues: “On 27 January 1945 a reconnaissance patrol from the Soviet 107th Rifle Division emerged from the snow-laden forest 70km west of Kraków. The soldiers were mounted on shaggy ponies, their submachine guns slung across their backs. In front of them stood Auschwitz-Birkenau, the grimmest symbol of modern history. Officers gazed around in disbelief, then called in medical teams to care for the 3,000 sick prisoners left behind.

It is a great shame that Vladimir Putin, having not been invited, won’t be present at a memorial ceremony next week to mark the 70th anniversary – at the very least, it would have reminded the world that the advance of Stalin’s Red Army forced the SS to abandon the extermination camps in the east. And yet the muted row over the Russian president’s absence is a reminder that this particular chapter in Russia’s second world war history was, and remains, full of contradictions.

. The first death camp to be liberated by the Red Army was Majdanek just outside Lublin, in July 1944. The novelist and war correspondent Vasily Grossman was on the spot with the 8th Guards Army, which had defended Stalingrad, but an order came down that he was not to cover the story. The job was given instead to Konstantin Simonov, a favourite of the regime, who managed to avoid mentioning that any of the victims in Majdanek were Jewish. Grossman, despite warnings from his friend Ilya Ehrenburg, had been slow to believe that antisemitism could exist within the Soviet hierarchy during the death struggle with Nazism. But in 1943 he had noticed that any reference to Jewish suffering was being cut from his articles. He wrote to complain to Aleksandr Shcherbakov, the chief of the Red Army political department. Shcherbakov replied: “The soldiers want to hear about [Russian military hero of the Napoleonic era] Suvorov, but you quote [German 19th-century poet] Heine”. Grossman joined Ehrenburg on the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee to chronicle Nazi crimes, unaware of how dangerous this might prove to be. Several of their colleagues were murdered by the secret police.

Certain truths about the Shoah could never be published in the Sovet Union. When Grossman wrote about the extermination camp of Treblinka, he could not reveal that the auxiliary guards were mostly Ukrainian. Collaboration with the enemy was a taboo subject since it undermined the rhetoric of the Great Patriotic War.


As the end of the war approached, controls became even stricter. Auschwitz may have been liberated at the end of January 1945, but no details were released until the final victory in May. The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee soon found that its work was in direct opposition to the party instruction: “Do not divide the dead!” Jews were not to be seen as a special category of suffering. They were to be described only as citizens of the USSR and Poland. Thus in a way Stalin was the first Holocaust denier, even if his antisemitism was not quite the same as that of the Nazis. It was probably based more on a xenophobic suspicion of international connections than on racial hatred.

Soviet propaganda, while designating those killed at Auschwitz in collectively anonymous terms as “victims of fascism”, also portrayed the extermination camp as the ultimate capitalist factory, where the workers were murdered when no longer useful.

And there was a further twist away from the truth. The Stalinists emphasised how many Poles had died there to distract attention from their own crimes against the Polish people, both following the Red Army’s unprovoked invasion in 1939 under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and its brutal occupation from 1944. They portrayed Auschwitz as the place of martyrdom for the Polish nation. By talking only of the Polish Catholics who had died there, they hoped that the Poles might focus any anger at their bitter fate entirely against Germany and not against the Soviet Union.

Few Poles were taken in during those postwar years of Soviet oppression. And now Putin’s ill-disguised attempts to reassert Russian control over Ukraine have of course reminded the Polish people all too clearly of what Soviet “liberation” meant for them in 1945. It is not therefore surprising that we should be seeing a certain amount of diplomatic shadow-boxing in the background, while both sides insist everything is normal.

The Kremlin is pretending not to have been snubbed by the fact that President Putin has not been asked to the commemoration event; meanwhile, the Polish government insists it was not issuing formal invitations. The Auschwitz international committee, which includes a Russian representative, was simply asking each government who would be representing them.

Putin made a speech at Auschwitz 10 years ago on the 60th anniversary, and no doubt he will again proclaim in Moscow on 9 May – Russia’s Victory Day – that the Red Army’s defeat of “the fascist beast” saved Europe from Nazi slavery. {and we think he is right to claim that but this is obviously only a half truth as the Soviets did in effect exchange one slavery for another.}

But those countries, especially Poland and the Baltic states, that experienced the ensuing 40 years of Communist dictatorship glance nervously now east once more.

Russia, obsessed for centuries by a fear of encirclement and surprise attack, has always felt justified in dominating its “near abroad”. It was Stalin’s shock at Hitler’s invasion in 1941, and his consequent determination to create a defensive cordon, that led to the cold war. Putin, fortunately, is a very pale imitation of his hero.

• Antony Beevor’s next book, Ardennes – 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble, is out in May 2015.

————————————————————————————————
AND THE VIEW FROM THE ALTERNATE MEDIA THAT GOT US INTERESTED IN THIS – WHY INDEED DID PRESIDENT OBAMA AND MEMBERS OF CONGRESS NOT CHOSE TO GO TO OSWIECIM (Auschwitz-Birkenau) AND ARE GOING TO RYADH INSTEAD? This being written after reading next story:


Glenn Greenwald | Compare and Contrast: Obama’s Reaction to the Deaths of King Abdullah and Hugo Chavez

By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, 24 January 2015

Greenwald writes: “The effusive praise being heaped on the brutal Saudi despot by western media and political figures has been nothing short of nauseating; the UK Government, which arouses itself on a daily basis by issuing self-consciously eloquent lectures to the world about democracy, actually ordered flags flown all day at half-mast to honor this repulsive monarch.”

Hugo Chávez was elected President of Venezuela four times from 1998 through 2012 and was admired and supported by a large majority of that country’s citizens, largely due to his policies that helped the poor. King Abdullah was the dictator and tyrant who ran one of the most repressive regimes on the planet.

The effusive praise being heaped on the brutal Saudi despot by western media and political figures has been nothing short of nauseating; the UK Government, which arouses itself on a daily basis by issuing self-consciously eloquent lectures to the world about democracy, actually ordered flags flown all day at half-mast to honor this repulsive monarch. My Intercept colleague Murtaza Hussain has an excellent article about this whole spectacle, along with a real obituary, here.

I just want to focus on one aspect: a comparison of the statements President Obama issued about the 2013 death of President Chávez and the one he issued today about the Saudi ruler. Here’s the entire Obama statement about Chávez (h/t Sami Khan):

Statement covering the reaction from President Obama regarding the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz (photo: The Guardian)

Statement covering the reaction from President Obama regarding the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz (photo: The Guardian)

One obvious difference between the two leaders was that Chávez was elected and Abdullah was not. Another is that Chávez used the nation’s oil resources to attempt to improve the lives of the nation’s most improverished while Abdullah used his to further enrich Saudi oligarchs and western elites. Another is that the severity of Abdullah’s human rights abuses and militarism makes Chávez look in comparison like Gandhi.

But when it comes to western political and media discourse, the only difference that matters is that Chávez was a U.S. adversary while Abdullah was a loyal U.S. ally – which, by itself for purposes of the U.S. and British media, converts the former into an evil villainous monster and the latter into a beloved symbol of peace, reform and progress. As but one of countless examples: last year, British Prime Minister David Cameron – literally the best and most reliable friend to world dictators after Tony Blair – stood in Parliament after being questioned by British MP George Galloway and said: “there is one thing that is certain: wherever there is a brutal Arab dictator in the world, he will have the support of [Galloway]”; last night, the very same David Cameron pronounced himself “deeply saddened” and said the Saudi King would be remembered for his “commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths.”

That’s why there is nobody outside of American cable news, DC think tanks, and the self-loving Oxbridge clique in London which does anything but scoff with scorn and dark amusement when the US and UK prance around as defenders of freedom and democracy. Only in those circles of tribalism, jingoism and propaganda is such tripe taken at all seriously.

————————-==================———————-
And Some of the Comments:

+37 # wrknight 2015-01-24 10:53
Democracy has never been a factor in determining whether a nation and its ruler are allies or enemies of the U.S.. All that matters is whether or not the ruler of that country allows U.S. Corporations to exploit their resources and/or their people.

Witness the fact that the U.S. has engineered the overthrow of numerous democratically elected presidents, while simultaneously supporting numerous ruthless dictators. The difference? The “allies” opened their markets to U.S. Corporate exploitation while the “enemies” put constraints on U.S. Corporations, nationalized U.S. Corporate assets or closed their markets entirely.

The pattern is consistent throughout U.S. history, is easily verified, and clearly tells who really dictates U.S. foreign policy.

+17 # reiverpacific 2015-01-24 11:22

So when has the US EVER NOT supported or imposed upon other nations trying to establish Democracy, a feudalist, regressive, violent or right-wing death-squad-enf orced regime, before but figuratively starting with Mossadegu’s Iran in 1953, Arbenz’s Guatemala in 1954 and almost annually since, most recently supporting the Oligarchy-drive n removal of Zelaya in Honduras, whilst high-handedly proclaiming it’s superiority, democracy and exceptionalism worldwide (for exceptionalism, substitute “‘Cause we can and if you don’t like it, we’ll do it to you too”, or “selective self-definition”).

I’m glad that Greenwald brought this up but unfortunately, the US owner-media will probably just ignore it all. In this case though, I can’t imagine even the average American somnambulistic infotainment-in formed citizen shedding any tears for this “Sheik of Arabee” leader of the oppressive Wahabist interpreters of much-abused Islam, whilst “Chop-chop square” continues as #1 public entertainment in Riyadh.

Very disappointing from Obama: I’d have expected it from Dimwits/Cheney after these revolting photos of Shrub the dumbest holding hands with the Royal Petroleum-pumpe rs, wielding a scimitar but being a lifelong incurious, clueless pinhead about the world in general.

None of them were fit to wipe Chavez’s boots!
This is proof, if any were needed, that much of International Diplomacy is forked-tongue bullshit and hypocrisy.
Good job Mr. Greenwald!

+2 # cordleycoit 2015-01-24 11:50

One has to be careful licking depots boots, Blood carries a price on the boot licker’s health. Mr. Chavez was not blameless as a leader. Of course the king shed rivers of blood to appease religious bigots men women it didn’t matter. Obama gets to supplicate to the late butcher.

+5 # Guy 2015-01-24 12:21
Nauseating is the most accurate wording for this behavior in the West .I can’t believe what I am seeing .A severe case of blindness has affected the Western view of reality.

+4 # Anonymot 2015-01-24 12:25
Well observed. Thanks.

What everyone has forgotten or never knew was how and why Abdulazis and his family became so rich. They were not poor, ever. Then came who? Richard Nixon! Wha?

After his successful re-election in 11/1973 Nixon owed a great debt to Texas oilmen who had financed his campaign. They wanted an oil pipeline from Alaska. I remember it as in the State Of The Union address, Jan. 1973 that Nixon promised to get the pipeline approved. Using the usual fear tactics he pointed out that oil prices had gone from $3 to $12 per barrel. “We cannot let OPEC have this Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads.” Nixon said.

Well, the Arabs looked at each other, Abdulaziz included. They were smart like desert foxes. We didn’t realize we were a Sword of Damocles, they said – or something like that – and that was the end of cheap oil. Nixon had just given them the arms to destroy the West and they have used them ever since.

You won’t find this documented anywhere, not even in Wikipedia. I just happened to put several disparate things together when I was sitting on a veranda on the Kenya coast and said, “Whoa!!”

It was one of those great “unintended consequences” that our brilliant politicians make, like the little Vietnam War or the little topple Saddam incursion or the Arab Spring regime changes. The Ukraine, Venezuela, Putin, and China are waiting to be played out.

-9 # daruten1 2015-01-24 12:27

Why is it necessary to evaluate every ruler and country through the lenses of our own experiences and values? Mr Greenwald is ethnocentric, judgmental and unable to perceive where other cultures are coming from given their past historical cultures and experiences. Who is he to tell other countries that they do not measure up to the Western world’s values? The world is a complicated place and diplomacy is but one instrument of getting along with people and countries whose views differ from our values and who are difficult. The trick in life is getting along with people whether you agree or disagree with them. Obama has shown intelligence and emotional intelligence in this instance.

+1 # reiverpacific 2015-01-24 12:58
Quoting daruten1:

Why is it necessary to evaluate every ruler and country through the lenses of our own experiences and values? Mr Greenwald is ethnocentric, judgmental and unable to perceive where other cultures are coming from given their past historical cultures and experiences. Who is he to tell other countries that they do not measure up to the Western world’s values? The world is a complicated place and diplomacy is but one instrument of getting along with people and countries whose views differ from our values and who are difficult. The trick in life is getting along with people whether you agree or disagree with them. Obama has shown intelligence and emotional intelligence in this instance.

“Mr Greenwald is ethnocentric, judgmental and unable to perceive where other cultures are coming from given their past historical cultures and experiences.”
Au contraiare, it’s his job as an investigative and world-respected reporter, who has had his own share of Imperialist persecution and fingers pointed at him, to comment on what he perceives as inter-cultural hypocrisy!

###

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

from: Martin Indyk <foreign_policy@brookings.edu>
please reply to:  foreign_policy at brookings.edu

Subject: Brookings Search for a New Energy Security and Climate Initiative Director

THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION – FOREIGN POLICY
 www.brookings.edu/about/employmen….

Please share this job posting with qualified candidates. We appreciate your help in getting the word out to qualified candidates in the energy security and climate policy communities.

Best Regards,

Martin Indyk
Vice President and Director, Foreign Policy
The Brookings Institution

###

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

 www.theguardian.com/sustainable-b…

Head of UN climate talks: ‘the pain in the shoe is not great enough’ for businesses to take action.

Businesses have a fundamental role to play in securing a climate deal, Christiana Figueres says, but don’t yet feel immediately threatened by the situation

World Bank chief makes climate action plea
Al Gore: ‘oil companies use our atmosphere as an open sewer’
World leaders failing on ‘social cohesion’

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, says “we all have a responsibility to the future”.

Thursday 22 January 2015 – By Jo Confino in Davos

Christiana Figueres, who heads up the global climate change talks, was visibly moved as she urged business leaders to take action to avoid runaway climate change at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos on Thursday.

“This is the first generation that is becoming aware of what we have done, because the previous generation had no clue,” said the executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “We can’t blame them, we can’t blame ourselves because we’ve been put in this situation, but we do have a responsibility to do something about it and not to pass it on to the next generation.”

Looking at her daughter sitting nearby, Figueres’ eyes well up. Her desire to secure a meaningful climate deal later this year in Paris is clearly as much a personal concern as a global one.

While it is incumbent on the world’s politicians to secure a deal, it’s apparent they need help: just yesterday, the US Senate failed to pass resolutions acknowledging that climate change is the result of human activity. The private sector can play a pivotal role in giving politicians the confidence to act, Figueres said.

US tech giants launch fierce fightback against global tax avoidance crackdown.

“I don’t think anybody can question the fact the role of business is fundamental, independently of [on] what side of the spectrum business stands,” she said.

Engagement from the private sector, Figueres says, needs to come in three forms: vision, action and voice.

Vision is about business leaders understanding the consequence of climate change for their companies and ensuring they align their operations with staying within a 2C rise in global temperatures.

Executives then need to think through what they need from governments at both national and international level in order to pursue that path.

“This is about vision, not short-termism,” Figueres said. “It’s not just about energy efficiency measures today, which represents only a tiny, tiny little first step. It’s about starting there but then understanding where we have to be over the next 50 years.”

Once companies have a clear destination, they need to focus on closing the distance between where they are now and where they want to be, she says. The final step is to become much more vocal about the need for transformational action.

“It is no secret that we have a very small number of corporations that are being very vocal, and that there’s a huge number of companies – the silent majority – that are not participating in this discussion and are not engaging with governments with respect to the very clear guidance and regulatory certainty that they need,” she said.

Figueres believes the lack of advocacy by companies is due to the fact that most of them still do not feel immediately threatened by climate change. In a PwC survey this week, global warming didn’t even make the list of CEO’s top priorities or concerns.
‘It is profitable to let the world go to hell’

But Figueres warns that if executives continue to focus only on what’s in front of their noses, they will put their companies’ long-term survival at risk.

They can see that in the long run, having a stable planet and economic system is actually better for them in their operations and their business continuity, and that there is a huge opportunity for growth and for new profit, for new jobs, new industries and new technologies,” she said.

“But that is not compelling enough to actually have the CEO get up there and use his voice and leadership because the pain in the shoe is not enough. There is this abstract sense of yeah, we all want to be better off, but maybe somebody else should be doing something about that. In the meantime, I have my payroll to worry about.

Whereas those companies that are very active and do have a voice perceive that they’re immediately threatened.”

Businesses, regardless of their size, have largely failed to look deeply at the impacts of fossil fuels, she said: “They just use electricity and that’s the sum total of their engagement in this process.”

Despite the need for more action, Figueres said she was heartened by the number of major businesses that attended the climate change summit in New York last year, and in particular by the engagement by whole sectors, such as insurers and more progressive sections of the investment industry.

There has also been a sea change in the attitude from governments about the need to collaborate with the private sector.

“There has been quite an evolution in the understanding of the very positive contribution that the private sector can make,” she says. “I remember when I got to the secretariat five years ago that the private sector was a taboo word that never would have appeared in any text of governments. Yet now you have the text actually inviting quite openly the participation of corporations.

She acknowledged that there’s still a long way to go in what she calls “an evolutionary process”. But with just 10 months to go before the Paris talks open, Figueres also recognised the need for urgent action and referred to having a time bomb on our hands.
How concerned are CEOs about climate change? Not at all
Read more

When one strips everything away, Figueres says that what business leaders need to do most is get in touch with their common humanity.

We speak of business as though there was a head there, a thinking brain, and that’s not so,” she says. “We have a role to play in life, whether that is being the head of a Fortune 500 company, or being a junior professional in an NGO, and we must step up to those roles.

“However, what cuts across all of those differences is the fact that we’re all human beings, all of us, and we all are either parents or aunts and uncles or grandparents and we all have a responsibility to the future.”

This year’s Davos coverage is funded by The B Team. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled “brought to you by”.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 16th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

The Church has come a long way!

“Freedom of expression is a right, but there are limits when it comes to insulting faiths,” Pope Francis told reporters today, referring to events surrounding the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.

“One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith,” Francis said.
Likewise, he said, people have religious liberty, but “one can’t kill in the name of God.”
He said this after a reporter asked him about religious liberty and freedom of expression.

The pope made the comments on a trip to the Philippines.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 5th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Crude Oil Dips Under $50 A Barrel, A Price Last Seen In 2009.
January 05, 2015

The price for a barrel of U.S. oil benchmark West Texas Intermediate fell below $50 Monday, matching levels seen in the spring of 2009. The drop is linked to both OPEC’s boosted production and a stronger dollar.

Oil’s latest fall came along with a dip on Wall Street, as the Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 330 points to finish at 17,501 — a drop of 1.86 percent that’s also seen as a reaction to new instability in Europe.

Petroleum has been in a free fall: In the U.S., the average cost for a gallon of regular gasoline has fallen from above $3.60 to below $2.20 since June, according to AAA.

The sharp drop has come as OPEC member nations seek to protect their market share by raising production levels to undercut profits for U.S. oil companies.

Both Iraq and Russia are now producing crude at record levels, as Bloomberg News reports.


“People are thinking about promises from OPEC, mostly Saudi Arabia, that they’ll continue to produce at very high levels,” TD Securities commodity strategy chief Bart Melek tells Agence France-Presse. “On the demand side of the equation, what we’re getting is basically a lack of demand growth … as Europe is potentially in crisis.”

The cheaper oil and gas prices come along with a surging dollar, which reached a nine-year high against the euro earlier Monday.

As Krishnadev reported for the Two-Way, the reasons for that gain include renewed instability in Greece and the possibility that the European Central Bank “could introduce quantitative easing to stimulate the eurozone.”

For many in the American oil industry, a central question has been whether companies can keep developing oil fields, even as the financial incentive to do so keeps shrinking.

As the industry site Fuel Fix notes today, the number of working U.S. oil rigs has fallen more in the past two weeks than in any similar period since 2009.

“The number of rigs operating in the United States declined by 29 last week to 1,811,” the site reports, “marking the fourth consecutive weekly decrease for the U.S. count, published by oil field services company Baker Hughes.”

—————

The euro fell by 1.2% against the dollar to $1.1864, marking its weakest level since March 2006, before recovering slightly to $1.19370.

The drop follows ECB president Mario Draghi’s comments indicating the bank could soon start quantitative easing.

Greek political turmoil also weighed on the currency.

Although the ECB has already cut interest rates to a record low level, and also bought some bonds issued by private companies, a full-scale programme of quantitative easing QE has not yet been launched.

But on Friday, Mr Draghi hinted in a newspaper interview that the bank might soon start a policy of QE by buying government bonds, thus copying its counterparts in the UK and US.

The purpose would be to inject cash into the banking system, stimulate the economy and push prices higher.

Speaking in an interview with the German newspaper Handelsblatt, Mr Draghi said: “We are making technical preparations to alter the size, pace and composition of our measures in early 2015.”
Greek turmoil

Political turmoil in Greece also weighed on the euro, with fears that the general election on 25 January, could see the anti-austerity, left-wing Syriza party take control of the country.

The possibility has sparked fears about whether Greece will stick to the terms of its international bailout and stay in the eurozone.

On Saturday, Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine said the German government believes the eurozone would be able to cope with a Greek “exit” from the euro, if the Syriza party wins the Greek election.

Reacting to Der Spiegel’s report, a spokesman for German Chancellor Merkel said there was no change in German policy and the government expects Greece to fulfil its obligations under the EU, ECB and IMF bailout.

French president Francois Hollande also commented, saying it was now “up to the Greeks” to decide whether to remain a part of the single currency.

“Europe cannot continue to be identified by austerity,” he added, suggesting that the eurozone needs to focus more on growth than reducing its deficit.

Analysts said the euro was likely to remain volatile for the next few weeks.

“The market is readying itself for action from the ECB. The first meeting of the year takes place on 22nd January, so the euro is likely to remain in focus and see heightened volatility as we approach that date, which is also a few days before the Greek General Election,” said FxPro senior analyst Angus Campbell.

——————–

We go back to our base – the question what all this means to the answer of Clean Energy from Renewable Sources and Energy Independence in all parts of the World?

Our answer is that we are still optimists – now as the “Internet of Things” and our “Super-Connectivity” a la Rifkin – that we just posted – will help us get away from the reliance on fossil fuels. It seems thus that Russia may work in its best long term interest by squandering now its oil resources. I would not say that they do this because they have that foresight.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 29th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Pope Francis’s Edict on Climate Change Will Anger Deniers and US Churches

By John Vidal, Guardian UK, 28 December 14

Pontiff hopes to inspire action at next year’s UN meeting in Paris in December after visits to Philippines and New York

He has been called the “superman pope”, and it would be hard to deny that Pope Francis has had a good December. Cited by President Barack Obama as a key player in the thawing relations between the US and Cuba, the Argentinian pontiff followed that by lecturing his cardinals on the need to clean up Vatican politics. But can Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?

It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.

The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.

“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”

Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.

According to Vatican insiders, Francis will meet other faith leaders and lobby politicians at the general assembly in New York in September, when countries will sign up to new anti-poverty and environmental goals.

In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.

“The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.

“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he said.

In Lima last month, bishops from every continent expressed their frustration with the stalled climate talks and, for the first time, urged rich countries to act.

Sorondo, a fellow Argentinian who is known to be close to Pope Francis, said: “Just as humanity confronted revolutionary change in the 19th century at the time of industrialisation, today we have changed the natural environment so much. If current trends continue, the century will witness unprecedented climate change and destruction of the ecosystem with tragic consequences.”

According to Neil Thorns, head of advocacy at Cafod, said: “The anticipation around Pope Francis’s forthcoming encyclical is unprecedented. We have seen thousands of our supporters commit to making sure their MPs know climate change is affecting the poorest communities.”

However, Francis’s environmental radicalism is likely to attract resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the US – where Catholic climate sceptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives and Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate.

Cardinal George Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney who has been placed in charge of the Vatican’s budget, is a climate change sceptic who has been criticised for claiming that global warming has ceased and that if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were doubled, then “plants would love it”.

Dan Misleh, director of the Catholic climate covenant, said: “There will always be 5-10% of people who will take offence. They are very vocal and have political clout. This encyclical will threaten some people and bring joy to others. The arguments are around economics and science rather than morality.

“A papal encyclical is rare. It is among the highest levels of a pope’s authority. It will be 50 to 60 pages long; it’s a big deal. But there is a contingent of Catholics here who say he should not be getting involved in political issues, that he is outside his expertise.”

Francis will also be opposed by the powerful US evangelical movement, said Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the conservative Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion.

“The pope should back off,” he said. “The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect. Our position reflects the views of millions of evangelical Christians in the US.”

Comments

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+12 # Dust 2014-12-28 16:47
“has declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion” and “misled on the science”.

Bwahahahahaaa!!!!!!

How is it possible for a group that prides itself on lack of education and a complete dismissal of any science it does not like get to claim with a straight face that it knows anything about science itself?

Calvin Beisner should cite his “science” or shut up and stick to his extremely narrow interpretation of his selected religious texts.

Besides – the US is not a Christian nation, the Pope is not an evangelical, so on what possible authority does Calvin feel justified in telling the Pope to “back off”??

0 # NOMINAE 2014-12-28 23:22
Quoting Dust:

“has declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion” and “misled on the science”.

Bwahahahahaaa!!!!!!

How is it possible for a group that prides itself on lack of education and a complete dismissal of any science it does not like get to claim with a straight face that it knows anything about science itself? …

It is possible (but still hilariously unconvincing) under the aegis of the same arrogance of ignorance that impels and propels all manner of these moronic statements…….

pure, unadulterated, high-octane HUBRIS.

Nothing more is required or demanded in this time of virulent and vapid anti-intellectu alism, and the accompanying anti-science, or faux science that sells this bilge-water propaganda to the masses.

These statements are not designed to convince the leading edge of the intellectual Bell Curve. They are, as ever, aimed at the bulging center of the “average masses”.

…At the “Thugs” who are eventually to be installed and elevated above the intellectual class ala the Third Reich, Suharto, the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, ad infinitum – in short, an approach with a solidly proven track record enthusiasticall y and efficiently embraced by any and all Fascistic Systems, or Fascist Wannabes, in the world to date.

+5 # Dust 2014-12-28 20:09
After a wee bit of reading… Calvin Beisner is a freight train of crazy.

+7 # Activista 2014-12-28 21:20
Pope – especially in South America – has huge influence -
he is very influential on social issues – he does not have to have Phd. in climatology to see the effects of global warming -
I am agnostic – thank you Francis -

0 # Thebigkate 2014-12-28 23:50
Are we lucky, or what, to have such an enlightened pope? Now–if he would only get his act together on women in the church and the necessity of legal abortion!

0 # Regina 2014-12-28 23:51
There is reason to believe that Francis would not have sentenced Galileo to house arrest, nor called science apostasy. He uses logic where logic belongs, instead of insisting on dogma where dogma does not belong.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 25th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

AlterNet / December 25, 2014 / By Valerie Tarico

Not-So-Virgin Birth: Why Stories of Jesus Became More Magical Over Time
What you learn when you read the Bible in the order it was actually written.

Sometime toward the end of the first century, the writer of Luketold a story that would become one of the most treasured in all of Western Civilization, the birth of the baby Jesus. It opens with an announcement known as the Annunciation. A messenger angel named Gabriel appears to a young Jewish virgin, Mary, telling her that the spirit of God will enter her and she will give birth to a child who is both human and divine:

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. (Luke 1:30-34 NRSV)

Two wonder-filled stories merge.

Our modern Christmas story is a composite drawn from two gospels, meaning devotional accounts of the life of Jesus, known as the books of Matthew and Luke. Both accounts underscore that Mary, a virgin, was impregnated by God alone. The writer of Matthewdoesn’t repeat the Annunciation, but he does say that Mary’s fiancé Joseph wants to end their betrothal when he discovers that Mary is pregnant. An angel tells Joseph in a dream that her pregnancy is “of the Holy Spirit,” and so he keeps her a virgin until she gives birth to Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

Mary’s virginity is just one of several ways that the (now unknown) authors of the gospels signal to readers that this is no ordinary birth. Each accounts includes several supernatural wonders and pronouncements of God’s favor.

Because the gospels were aimed at different audiences, the auspicious events differ from story to story. Matthew: A rising star is seen by astrologers who bring gifts that foreshadow the baby’s future. Luke: A chorus of angels singing to shepherds on the hills. Matthew: A jealous king murders baby boys to protect his throne but the family of the holy child, having been warned in a dream, escapes. Luke:A prophet and prophetess recognize the infant’s divine spark.

Christmas pageants that merge these elements into a single story have delighted children and adults alike for centuries. The traditional manger scene or crèche merges them into a single panorama.

Grand Beginnings are Soon Forgotten

Many people might find it surprising that these auspicious infancy stories are never referenced elsewhere in the New Testament, for example in the letters of Paul or in the other two gospels that made their way into the Christian Bible. Even in the book of Luke itself, by the time Jesus is a boy, it is almost as if even his parents have forgotten the extraordinary circumstances of his birth. When he turns twelve, his family travels to Jerusalem, where his parents lose him. After three days, they find him in the temple:

When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. (Luke 2:48-50 NRSV).

Why would two authors describe a virgin birth announced by an angel and accompanied by natural wonders and then, not long after, have their characters behave as if it didn’t happen? That seems like an oddly wasted opportunity for writers who were seeking to establish both their own credibility and the credibility of their fledgling religion. Why don’t the dramatic astrological and biological signs of divinity surrounding the birth of Jesus get more play?

Christianity’s virgin birth narrative, both what it says and why it is poorly integrated into the rest of the Bible, is a fascinating study in cultural evolution. Specifically, it illustrates a process called “syncretism” whereby religions merge over time when cultures come into contact.

The New Testament Is Out of Order

Mainstream Bible scholarship tells us that the marvel-filled stories about the birth of Jesus don’t get referenced later in the New Testament because they were written aftermany of the books that follow them. When the books of the New Testament are arranged chronologically using the best information available, the gospels of Matthew and Luke are numbers 11 and 20 respectively. They come after letters that are believed to be authentic writings of Paul, for example, and after the gospel of Mark, which may have been a source for both authors but fails to mention an auspicious birth.

In addition, the birth narratives may have been late additions to the gospels themselves, which would explain why they seem forgotten later in the story. Evidence for this can be seen in how different versions of the gospels changed over time.

But the Catholic councils that decided which texts would go into the New Testament didn’t know that. They lacked the modern tools of linguistic analysis, archeology and anthropology and the mindset of antiquities scholarship. They believed that the books called Matthewand Luke were written by men named Matthew and Luke, one a disciple of Jesus and the other a companion of Paul, who had gotten some stories second hand and had been eye witnesses to others. The councils put the gospels first (and the book of Revelation last) because they were trying to assemble a coherent narrative.

Christianity Adapted to the Roman World

In 2012, Jesus scholar Marcus Borg published Evolution of the Word: Reading the Bible in the Order It was Written.Borg encourages readers to explore the 27 books of the New Testament in the order they were written to see how Christian thinking unfolded over time. Ordering the texts as they were written also allows scholars to put the evolution of Christianity in a historical context.

Read this way, one trend line is that the stories about Jesus become more magical over time. For example, John, the last gospel written, has Jesus making the boldest claims about his own deity. Another trend line is that over time, Jesus worship picks up bits of other cultures as Christianity spreads among the gentiles of the Roman Empire. Borg describes “an increasing accommodation within the cultural conventions of the time.” Some of those conventions came from Greek mythology and Roman civic religion.

The Earliest References to Jesus’ Birth Are More Mundane than Magical

The earliest mention of the birth of Jesus comes in Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, likely written between 49 and 55 C.E, or about half a century before the gospels of Matthewand Luke.Paul’s description makes no mention of a virgin birth. He says simply that, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law” (Galatians 4:4).

In another letter, Paul seems to imply that Jesus came into the world in the usual way. In Romans 1:1-3 he refers to . . . the gospel of God…concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” The phrase “seed of David” refers specifically to the genealogy of Joseph, the husband of Mary.

So Why Divine Insemination?

Symbologist and retired religion professor Dr. Tony Nugent, tells us that the miraculous elements of the Christmas story have their roots in ancient mythic traditions that predated and surrounded nascent Christianity. In Greek and Roman mythology, heroes and great men often were born from the union of a god and a human woman. For example, in the story of Hercules, Zeus impregnates his mother by taking the form of her husband. Helen of Troy is conceived when Zeus takes the form of a swan and either seduces or rapes her mother Leda. Danaë, the mother of Perseus, is impregnated by a shower of gold. Mars, the Roman god of war fathers the twins Romulus and Remus through Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin. Even Augustus, Pythagoras, and Alexander the Great were reputed to have human mothers and divine fathers.

The idea of gods or demi-gods mating with human women was familiar throughout the Ancient Near East. It appears in the book of Genesis:

When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4, NRSV)

Early Christians disagreed over when, exactly Jesus became divine. Jewish converts promoted a theory called “adoptionism” in which Jesus is uniquely adopted as God’s son later in life. The Gospel of Mark for example, suggests that this happens at the time of his baptism. Paul suggests that it happens when he is resurrected. The authors of Matthewand Luke,clearly had a view in this debate—they believed that the sonship of Jesus began at birth, and they made their case in terms that would be both familiar and persuasive to people of their time.

An Ambiguous Prophecy Helps the Story Along

One key goal of the gospel writers was to show that the life of Jesus had been predicted by Hebrew prophesies and that the details of his life fulfilled these prophesies. Many Christians to this day take the fulfilled prophecies of the gospel stories as proof positive that stories are true. The naturalistic explanation, of course, is that the gospel writers (or the oral and written traditions they received) may have shaped their stories about Jesus to fit the Hebrew scriptures. And the careful documentation of Mary’s sexual history—or lack thereof—offers one bit of evidence that they did exactly that.

After telling readers that Jesus was fathered by God himself in spirit form, the writer of Matthew adds the following words:

“All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1: 22-23).

The quotation is taken from the book of Isaiah (7:14), and in the context of the time it is understood as predicting a hopeful future for the Kingdom of Hezekiah. But the Christian who first linked this passage to the person of Jesus must have been delighted.

Early Judaism was very focused on purity—pure foods, unblemished bodies, and female sexual abstinence that ensured pure bloodlines for God’s chosen people. The Apostle Paul made sexual purity central to mainstream Roman Christianity. To a believer steeped in Rome’s tradition of divine insemination and Judaism’s tradition of virtuous virginity, a divine virgin birth might seem like exactly how Jesus should be born.

The twist is this: The Hebrew word used by the writer of Isaiah is almah, which can mean either a young woman who hasn’t had sex or simply a young women who hasn’t yet born a child. Anglican theologian John Shelby Spong tells us that a different word Hebrew word betulah, is used 50 times in the Hebrew Bible when the writer wants to refer specifically and clearly to a woman who hasn’t had sex.(Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Virgin Birth and the Treatment of Women by a Male Dominated Church.) But the gospel writers relied on a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Septuagint. In the Septuagint, the word almah is translated as parthenos, which also can mean either young girl or virgin, but which is strongly associated with the virgin goddess Athena.

Would the writers of Matthew and Luke have emphasized Mary’s virginity if they had been privy to the original Hebrew? We will never know. What we do know is this. The story of a virginal young woman who is impregnated by a god and gives birth to a man who changes history appeals to the human imagination. It is a trope that has emerged in many mythic traditions and endured across centuries, cultures and continents. After it took root in Christianity, alternatives fell by the wayside, and the story of the baby Jesus, born to a virgin amidst signs and wonders, became the most celebrated and cherished story in the Bible.

Thank you to Dr. Tony Nugent, Presbyterian ordained symbologist and retired religion professor, for consultation on this article.

—————-
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 25th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


Pope Francis is a “Marxist” He is is a Marxist in the eyes of Right Wingers in the US because he speaks about “the structural causes of poverty” – the “idolatry of money,” and the “new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism. Obviously, say the Pontiff’s pious critics – that’s commie talk.

The clincher for them was when Francis wrote an official Papal document in which he asked in outrage: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” See, cried the carpers, that’s proof that Francis is the Red Pope!

——–


Merry Christmas, Right-Wingers, the Red Pope, and Jesus.

By Jim Hightower, Jim Hightower’s Blog

25 December 14

Tere’s a twist on Christmas that would make Jesus weep.

First, a right-wing faction in the US has been wringing its hands over a hokey cultural “crisis” cooked up by the faction itself, namely that liberals, atheists, humanists, and – God Forbid – Marxists are waging a “War on Christmas.” The infidels are not accused of lobbing bombs in this war, but Words of Mass Destruction. Specifically, the right-wing purists wail that unholy lefties are perverting the season by saying “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

Second, some ultra conservative members of this same faction have launched their own war – against Jesus! How twisted is this? They say no one should mess with the word “Christmas,” yet they’re messing with the guy Christmas is supposed to be about.

Okay, technically they’re not going directly at Jesus, but at a key part of his message – and, and in particular, at a key messenger of Christianity: Pope Francis!

They’ve decided that the Pope is a “Marxist,” pointing out that Francis speaks often about “the structural causes of poverty,” the “idolatry of money,” and the “new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism. Obviously, say the Pontiff’s pious critics, that’s commie talk.

The clincher for them was when Francis wrote an official Papal document in which he asked in outrage: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” See, cried the carpers, that’s proof that Francis is the Red Pope!

But wait – that was a very good question he asked, one ripe with the moral wrath that Jesus himself frequently showed toward the callous rich and their “love of money.” Indeed, the Pope’s words ring with the deep ethics you find in Jesus’ sermon on the Mount. Was he a commie, too?

Could it be that the carpers are the ones lacking in real Christmas spirit?

———

A FEW OF THE COMMENTS:

+52 # RCW 2014-12-25 14:07
Thanks, Jim, and from the Jewish side, the Pope’s sentiments on behalf of the poor and oppressed by the indolent wealthy are those of the great Old Testament prophets as well.

+10 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 15:33
Now, if he’d only lighten up on gay guys and lesbian girls and, in fact, on women of all sorts, we might begin a useful dialogue. After all, not all Christians are fools and bigots …

+36 # Pickwicky 2014-12-25 14:14
But the most spectacular statement by Francis is, “All God’s creatures go to Paradise.” Now, come on, you goofy Right Wingers–what Marxist ever said that!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

+2 # LGNTexas 2014-12-25 17:25
There is hardly a word about a Jesus recorded by the Roman historian, Josephus…no nativity story or crucifixion story. For sure there is little known about the Persian God, Mithra, that preceded Christ in the Western world. I never knew of Mithra until told his legends by an Israeli soldier I befriend while working in Israel. He was giving me reasons he didn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Much of what we know in the New Testament is from the teachings of St. Paul or Saul of Tarsus. That city in Asia-Minor was a hotbed of Mithraism, which became the most popular god of the Roman legions. So Saul (Paul) probably knew all about Mithra who was born of a virgin mother on December 25, centuries before Jesus. Mithra was called the light of the world, even visited by shepherds, etc. IF there was a visit by 3 “Wise men” they were probably Persians of the Zoroastrian faith and worshiped Mithra. The Mithra cult may have survived if not for the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 313 A.D. To read about Mithra one also can feel they are reading the New Testament. Did St. Paul plagiarize Mithraism in order to convert those already familiar with the cult? www.truthbeknown.com/mithra.htm

+1 # Charles3000 2014-12-25 19:07
Of course Paul/Saul knew about Mithras and Mithraism almost beat out Paul’s brand of Christianity. Some scholars due refer to Christianity as the last and greatest of the Greek mystery religions…and that is probably a very good outsider take on the nature of the religion. And all of us, whatever our faith or choice of religious doctrines, should never, ever forget. All religions are made by man; none were made by God.

+4 # Brian Flaherty 2014-12-25 14:45
In keeping with the Spirit of the Season, I understand that the “true” Christians are making plans to come out with a blockbuster film for Christmas, 2015. . .”The Nativity and Aftermath” with the ORIGINAL cast. . .
It’s gonna be ready for theaters and purchase online once they’ve trained Jesus in the Real Principles of Christianity!

It seems that He has dropped the ball somewhere over the past 2000 years and it’s gonna take awhile to get him back on track if he wants to play the lead in the Passion Play! If he won’t “play ball” they’ll just hafta replace him with a “body double” who’s willing to do the Cruci-FICTION and wear the thorny Crown while saying all the “RIGHT” Things!

+9 # DaveM 2014-12-25 15:03
Is Mel Gibson directing?

+6 # Brian Flaherty 2014-12-25 15:16
Who else could handle it?? I understand he’s also willing to bankroll it. . .Unless they can get a grant from the David Koch Fund for Science!

+14 # asbpab1966 2014-12-25 14:52
Also, it was not a Druid festival, but the Roman festival of Saturnalia, celebrating the Winter Solstice, with which the early Christians decided to coincide Christmas. Before Constantine adopted Christianity for the Roman Empire, the Romans persecuted Christians.

+11 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 15:43
Yes, there is a definite connection with the Saturnalia, but it was probably a Druid festival as well. I know for sure that the Vikings were enthusiastic about it – and I think that the Swedes still celebrate their festival of lights wherein young girls parade around with lighted candles on their heads!

The point is that there are lots of cultures (especially where snow falls regularly) that get cheerful when the days begin to get longer.

+15 # margpark 2014-12-25 15:01
Lots of people all over the world celebrated the Solstice with gaiety and joy because everyone was glad the sun was coming back rather than to continue the decline which would have meant the end of the world.

0 # Regina 2014-12-25 18:59
Only in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere (e.g., Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, etc.) the sun is at its maximum latitude on December 21, which is their summer solstice. Although the northern hemisphere has most of the planet’s people, we should be more inclusive in the conclusions we jump to.

+6 # Corvette-Bob 2014-12-25 15:18
I read an interesting book on Christianity it is called “How Jesus became God” It is true that Constantine was how Christianity became the big religion since the emperor wanted to unite his empire with one religion. It really was a political decision. There were many people running around the time of Christ who were allegedly performing miracles and who were born from a virgin mother, and were later killed and went to heaven and were god. But Constantine had to pick one religion and he chose Christianity.

+12 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 15:28
I know Jesus can be faulted for that line about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven … but that was just hyperbole intended to encourage a few more alms for the poor.

And, as for the unpleasantness in the temple, it certainly wasn’t a sign that we should be mad at Wall Street (after all, Jesus only went after the “Jewish” moneylenders!).

The real problem comes in Acts 4(32), where it is written that none of the apostles ever said “nought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common.”

Or worse, Acts 4(34-35) in which we learn that “neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man as he had need.”

Now, fast forward 1800 years to Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), where he says “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”

So, either the disciples were communists or Marx was a Christian (absent the “God” part).

In any case, Marx can be accused of many things but only one charge firmly sticks: Plagiarism!

+2 # Arden 2014-12-25 16:39
My favorite Sunday School teacher told us, many long years ago, that the openings in the city walls, where those folks who needed to get in after the main gates were closed, were called “needles”. They were small and low to the ground, so that a camel would have great difficulty going thru them.

+1 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:55
Your favorite Sunday School teacher may well have been right. Or, maybe that was just a desperate attempt to suppress the filthy, godless, communistic implications of the words attributed to the fellow (Jesus, that is).

I don’t know the truth of it or if Jesus even existed or if he said anything remotely similar to the words reported in Matthew 19(24); but, I do know that those words, taken literally, would knock Michele Bachmann and the rest of them for a loop. So, absent overwhelming evidence, I’ll stick with the way King James’ translation committee expressed it.

+7 # kalpal 2014-12-25 15:30
So why is the fact that Jesus was a Jew and never anything other than a Jew, along with all of his disciples, not a topic open to discussion within the halls of those purporting to adore Jesus? Was his Jewishness embarrassing to those who claim to be his followers? If you follow Jesus, then be a Jew. Stop being a pagan who calls himself a Xtian.

-2 # Arden 2014-12-25 16:45
huh?

0 # Regina 2014-12-25 19:02
Yeah.

-2 # anarchteacher 2014-12-25 15:54
One cannot begin to understand the secular political history of the world over the past two thousand years (and the impact of the Incarnation upon humanity) without seeing it through the interpretative lens of Political Religions.

The outstanding chronicler of Political Religions writing today is Michael Burleigh, who is following in the bold path blazed by scholars such as Eric Voegelin, Murray Rothbard, Norman Cohn, Gerhart Niemeyer, James Billington, and Henri de Lubac.
 www.amazon.com/Utopian-Nightmares…

Utopian Nightmares and Gnostic Political Religions – an Amazon book list

I have long believed that at the core of the political and economic challenges we face as a civilization is an ongoing warfare within the spiritual dimension at the root of our being.

For two millennia, Western civilization has been rent and torn asunder by this struggle.

The unity of Christendom was shattered by the Reformation. After Martin Luther came the seeds for the rise of the leviathan state. The fertile soil of Europe had been sown but the time was not yet ready. The gestation would take centuries to come to full fruition.

-3 # anarchteacher 2014-12-25 15:59
The tsunamic wave unleashed by the French Revolution swept the planet, bringing in its wake the forces of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” — or as seen through the prism of ideology — Liberalism, Collectivism, and Nationalism. The nourishing watering of the European soil had begun, and soon spread to all continents.
 www.amazon.com/The-Enlightenment-…

The Enlightenment, Freemasonry, Illuminism & the Religion of Humanity – an Amazon book list

It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose writings so influenced the French Revolution, who first announced that human beings could be transformed for the better by the political process, by social engineering. This idea would have fatal consequences for millions in the 20th century.

0 # ericlipps 2014-12-25 17:22
Whereas as we all know, the idea that humans can be transformed for the better by belief in an all-powerful King who can and will condemn them to torture for eternity if they do not recognize His authority and obey His edicts has had only positive effects.

-3 # anarchteacher 2014-12-25 16:02
Both the Marxist-Leninists in the Soviet Union and the National Socialists in Nazi Germany had at the center of their ideological agendas the creation of a “new man.”

Secularism and the crisis of faith, born of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, would provide the vital fertilizing nutrients for totalitarianism to finally bloom in the 20th century.

For it was in the 20th century where the West faced its greatest challenges via two satanic-inspired regimes, that of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. These two antipodal gnostic political religions were bent on using terror and mayhem to subjugate and remold humanity.

They wanted to coercively refashion a New Aryan Man or a New Soviet Man from our spiritual and material essence created by the hand of God.

Millions died in this cataclysmic process of “social engineering.”

In the 21st century our increasingly post-Christian West faces many new challenges but two in particular stand out: a return to its spiritual roots and a renascence of growth, promise, and renewal; and the renunciation of the deceitful illusions and lies upon which the corporatist welfare-warfare state was built and imposed on our civilization, this secular monstrosity which has led to so much misery, false hope, and insecurity.


+2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 16:54
I must say at the outset that I reject your basic premise which is, as you say, that “the core of the political and economic challenges we face as a civilization is an ongoing warfare within the spiritual dimension at the root of our being.”

If that means what I think it means; namely, that people squabble about their competing versions of “spirituality” and that inequalities of wealth and power arise from the results of those contests, then I respectfully submit that the relationship is exactly the reverse and that explicitly religious or ideologically political world-views are mainly propagandistic cover for local and geopolitical struggles that are more about material than spiritual matters.

That said, while I agree with your condemnation of 20th century “political religions” and your rejection of “social engineering,” I do not think that rejecting the “corporatist welfare-warfare state” is a sound alternative. In fact (unless you’re saying that it’s the corporations that get the welfare), public policies dedicated to social equity are the basis upon which the quest for social justice must be built – either that or we can all gather in self-sustaining anarcho-syndicalist communes (which is charming but unlikely, except perhaps in the wake of a global ecological collapse and/or military conflagration – not impossible, I admit).

Even less likely, however, is some sort of spontaneous spiritual process of “renunciation” and “renewal.” How, precisely, would that work?

-2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:08
Nothing I have said, of course, should be taken to mean that decentralization, localization, worker control and democracy! democracy! democracy! should be forsaken in the attempt to mimic the operational methods of massive private capitalist (or state capitalist) control – only that such initiatives (sadly ruined in large part by religious conflict) that once seemed possible in what’s euphemistically called the “former Yugoslavia” must grow naturally from existing circumstances.

As a final query, what exactly do you mean to be the content of the “renascence of growth, promise and renewal.” At the risk of sounding churlish, it sounds a little too much like President Obama’s “hopey-changey- thingie” (the only apt thing Sarah bin-Palin ever said).

-2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:08
Nothing I have said, of course, should be taken to mean that decentralization, localization, worker control and democracy! democracy! democracy! should be forsaken in the attempt to mimic the operational methods of massive private capitalist (or state capitalist) control – only that such initiatives (sadly ruined in large part by religious conflict) that once seemed possible in what’s euphemistically called the “former Yugoslavia” must grow naturally from existing circumstances.

As a final query, what exactly do you mean to be the content of the “renascence of growth, promise and renewal”? At the risk of sounding churlish, it sounds a little too much like President Obama’s “hopey-changey- thingie” (the only apt thing Sarah bin-Palin ever said).

+5 # JetpackAngel 2014-12-25 16:05
I say “Happy Holidays” because it’s faster than saying “Happy Goru / Dzon’ku Nu / Inti Raymi / Jonkonnu / Soyal / We Tripantu / Amaterasu / Choimus / Deyg?n / Maidyarem / D?ngzhì / T?ji / Lohri / Pongal / Makar Sankranti / Sanghamitta Day / ?eva Zistanê / Yalda / Beiwe / Brumalia / Christmas / Dies Natalis Solis Invicti / Deuorius Riuri / Hogmanay / Korochun / Malkh-Festival / M?draniht / Midvinterblót / Montol Festival / Mummer’s Day / Saturnalia / Wren’s Day / Yule / Ziemassv?tki / Hannukah / Krampasfest / Festivus / Kwanzaa / [others that I've surely forgotten].

0 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2014-12-25 17:17
If the Pope is “red.” does that mean those Republicans in the “red” states are commies?

-2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:51
Where I live RED is the color of the “liberals,” BLUE is the color of the”conservatives” and ORANGE is the color of the “socialists.”

Of course, what Americans mean by Conservatives (i.e., neoliberals), Liberals (i.e., center-right liberals) and Socialists (i.e., the hordes of Hell … or people with library cards who use public transit) is a matter of eternal mirth to those outside the fabulous fifty states.

Perhaps a global conference should be called to officially designate which color applies to which ideology (I suspect the biggest fight would be between ISIL and the Anarchists over the color BLACK.

Me? I would support anyone who claimed to wave a WHITE flag (and I’m not – believe me – being “racist” here).

+42 # Corvette-Bob 2014-12-25 14:20
Does anyone know why we celebrate Christmas on December 25? Clue it has nothing to do with the birth of anyone. The answer is because the “pagans” were celebrating the winter solstice on December 21 with “wild parties” and all sorts of going ons. So, the Christians decided that they would trump the festivities of the winter solstice with a celebration on December 25 with their own party. And since all of the pagans were gathered together they would just keep the party going. Just for good measure the Christians would incorporate the symbol of the cross with a circle of the symbol of the sun which the pagans worshiped as their god. So that originally the whole celebration was a celebration of the winter solstice. So actually Christmas was started as a war on the Druid’s festivities. So, now is their turn to conduct their war on Christmas. So for everyone out their happy winter solstice and a happy new year.

+13 # asbpab1966 2014-12-25 14:48
Also, the Jewish festival of Chanukah, which celebrated the miracle that occurred in 163BCE, was on the 25th of Kislev, a Jewish month that often corresponded fairly closely with December.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 23rd, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Dr. Josef Ostermayer is Chancellery Minister, in Chancellor Faymann’s office, since December 16, 2013, but also Federal Minister for Arts and Culture, Constitution, and Media and thus the face of Austria on many issues – he perhaps is now the third most important person in government.

From 2008 to 2013 Josef Ostermayer had been active as State Secretary for Media and Coordination at the Federal Chancellery. Prior to taking over his new position, he was Head of Office at the Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT).

Now he speaks for the government on such touchy topics like the upcoming Islamic Law – the Austrian Law that will not allow outside funding of Islamic cultural activities in Austria. The law will close at the end of this school year a Saudi funded school in Vienna that was found using school-books defaming Jews and generally advocating disorder. Ostermayer announced today that the spokesman for the Islamic Community of Austria (the IGGiOE) will not have the Veto right on these issues that Sunni Muslim Mr. Fuat Senac seems to claim for himself. Besides, he is not backed by Austria’s Shiite Muslims as well.

We had the honor of attending this week two events where Minister Ostermayer announced the year-end government funding forward- looking cultural programs.

Oh well, there will always be those that will criticize expenditures without having the vision of the important positive aspects of there expenditures.

The two events weres

A. Monday December 22, 2014 at the Federal Chancellery at Ballhausplatz 2, 1010 Wien, in the Kongressaal (the Congress Hall),
an announcement about “THE NEW VIENNA CONGRESS.”

B. Tuesday December 23, 2014 at the Museum of Natural History, at Maria-Teresien-Platz, 1010 Wien, in the new Mammuth Hall,
“Plans for the Museum of Natural History for the years 2015-2020.”

I will start from the latter.

The Museum is in one of two Symmetric old buildings situated on the sides of Empress Maria-Theresa Monument with the modern Art Culture Complex on one side, and the old Imperial Palace on the other side. The symmetric building is the Museum of Art History.

The collection was started 1750 by the husband of Maria-Theresa – Emperor Franz I Stephan of Lorraine and the Natural Museum founded in 1889 is today one of the richest in exhibits in the World with 30 million objects and 750,000 visitors per year, but the Mammuth Hall exhibit, recently established with Russian help, to be shown until March 2, 2015, includes Copies of Siberian findings, is too new to be mentioned in the floor plan – but figures on this year’s Christmas Card of the Museum. In the list of future events I found of interest the lecture to be given January 14, 6:30 PM by Ursula B. Goerlich on “Mammuth, Man, and Permafrost.”

The Minister explained the programs the museum plans for 2015 and then announced that considering the 125th anniversary since the museum was established, there will be a new digital planetarium and there is going to be funding of research and cooperation with other institutions on Planetary-, Bio-, and Human-, Science. Further, Directors from the Museum told us that further finances will come from the Mellon Foundation of the US, and the fact that halls of the second floor will be turned into further research areas for the use of local and foreign young people, with equipment to be acquired for these activities under a five year plan. The Vienna University will be involved in this as well – “and we are proud of it.”

I chose to start with this activity first because it shows elements similar to what we consider a much deeper project regarding a Model for a “Vienna Congress II.” The common elements are in our opinion:

- involvement of the Chancellor and his office;
- Minister Ostermayer’s hands-on involvement;
- end of year budget outlays;
- cooperation with Russia;
- a role for the University of Vienna;
- accent on youth;
- an offer to work with other EU States.

VIENNA AT THE CENTER OF A EUROPEAN POLITICAL TENT:

Looking at - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congress_of… (map there) – The Congress of Vienna was a conference of ambassadors of European states chaired by Austrian statesman Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, and held in Vienna from September 1814 to June 1815. The objective of the Congress was to provide a long-term peace for Europe by settling critical issues arising from the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. The goal was not simply to restore old boundaries, but to resize the main powers so they could balance each other off and remain at peace. The leaders were conservatives with little use for republicanism or revolution. France lost all its recent conquests, while Prussia, Austria and Russia made major territorial gains. Prussia added smaller German states in the west and 40% of the Kingdom of Saxony; Austria gained Venice and much of northern Italy. Russia gained parts of Poland. The new kingdom of the Netherlands had been created just months before, and included formerly Austrian territory that in 1830 became Belgium.

The Congress of Vienna, 1 November 1814- 8 June 1815
The system established in 1815 in Vienna lasted amazingly until 1814 – a neat 100 years.

By 1914 we saw the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires fall apart, a new Nationalism appeared and the new Colonial Empires started evolving economic power. Seemingly there was a need for a new rearrangement of power and like 100 years earlier it seemed that war was the way to achieve this. Just note – this is the half-time of the 200 years since The Vienna Congress.

This year – 2014 – we kept commemorating the 100 years since the eruption of WWI. In this scheme of things WWII was just a continuation of WWI as that war was not settled fully and an unhappy Germany with its Austrian sister having been left out of Colonial riches, wanted to see a global reset – and got it in 1945 though not according to their original intent.

Now, 2014, we have again a situation where some show unhappiness with their lot. Putin’s Russia, now a small economy, brings up memories of past physical greatness, Egypt – the natural hegemon of the Arab Muslim World is in trouble and what some thought mistakenly that it was going to be an Arab Spring, turned rather into a throw back to the dark ages of religious wars.
Then the US seems to want to wash its hands from the old allies and to reset for new ones – starting with those in East Asia and perhaps eventually Turkey and Iran. In this scenario it seems that the Russian-Ukrainian clash might lead to unexpected consequences and Austria that had heavily invested in Russia, would like to bring Russia back to the fold, and wishes to find a way to revive the spirit of the Vienna Congress of exactly 200 years ago.

Here comes the great idea that rather then calling for governments to send emissaries to Vienna for a renewed Congress, in this year of many other forward looking global events – like the Global Climate meetings and the effort on Sustainability aiming at the Global Environment and a Global Sustainable Economy based on a concept of Sustainable Energy for All that has its headquarters in Vienna, why not create a think-tank enclave of young people from Civil Society just for the European Space and ask them to figure out how their generation would like to live in harmony. The hope being that having this as an ongoing operation – an enclave of bright young people producing ideas and concepts with doable propositions – that will then be made public – and hopefully generate a movement that might then push governments to positive action.

So, on December 22, 2014, I found myself sitting in the hall where the 1814-1815 first enclave took place – the one that we call THE VIENNA CONGRESS. Minister Ostermayer, supported by Secretary of State in the Economy Ministry with oversight on Science, Technology, and Research Dr. Harald Mahrer  harald.mahrer at bmwfw.gv.at who is also President of the Julius Raab Foundation established to promote ideas that help maintain old values; Actor Harald Krassnitzer who is actively involved with Civil Society and was picked as a leader of this budding idea  www.moritzauer at aol.com he shuttles between Wuppertal (Germany) and Tirol (Mieming; and FASResearch Activist whose target is to reinvent media Dr. Harald Katzmair also picked for his involvement with civil Society  www.Harald.Katzmair at FAS.at .

Rather then summarizing what was said – I will try to present the event as it unfolded.

MINISTER OSTERMEYER: Chancellor Faymann and him discussed a year ago what to do about the anniversary of the Vienna Congress.
It was decided not to have just a commemoration but rather a look to the future. The challenge is how to bring young people from all over Europe committed to stay 30 days and discuss how they want to see their future evolve. They will have to come up with doable propositions. The event will happen in July 2015. Katzmair and Mahrer will present details. The concept was agreed also as part of the coalition negotiations – so it is bi-partisan or non-partisan so far as the government is concerned.

Mr. KRASSNITZER: The 1815 Congress was just an event but came up with 125 points that led to a revision of Europe under internationalism. It led to an order that exploded in 1914. So where is Europe now? Where does our travel go now? It is no more just National and European – it has become Global. This new century needs a new dialogue – we will have 150-160 young people plus from Russia and others. The outcomes will be presented to the European Parliament. A RELOADING – A RENAISSANCE – Culturally based.

Mr. KATZMAIR: We all have the feeling that Europe is stuck – and we must discuss the direction we want to develop.
It will be a rediscovery of what Europe was intended to be – not really just springing new ideas. This is how he sees it – but acknowledges that some might see this differently. The intent of this Congress will be – What tools exist for next generations to move on?
How do we get these 150 young people that will be able to discuss this – and in a short time come up with proposals for actions that are arrived at by consensus?

Mr. KRASSNITZER: There are other living platforms – like the Peace Platform for Europe, and we believe that the 21st Century will lead Europe to Free Life – like no need of Passports. The Peace Project needs to have present conflicts removed – those because of cultural differences that we forgot to deal with when dealing with the Economic Project.

Mr. KATZMAIR: We did not discuss the alternatives of how Europe should evolve. Alternatives are Democratization or re-Nationalism. He is President of a Communities Foundation (Gemeinde Stiftung) that is not a one-time thing – but a base for future follow-ups. He addresses the Minister that he hopes the Government will back this. So, what I heard here is that Mr. Katzmair is approaching the government to make clear that this exercise will have follow-ups.

MINISTER OF STATE MAHRER: This is what the Government wants – the establishing of a European model. That is why we invite people from the other Europe as well.

Why is Austria a base for such discussion? Good neighboring has to be our future.
The Government made available 300,000 Euro and an additional 300,000 Euro will come from the Private Sector.

Now for the Q & A time:

Q: How will you find the youth and what will be their age? Russia and others – very interesting. What about 40 year olds?
With 7 million unemployed – how do you bring this into your politics?

A. from Minister Ostermayer: There is a Youth Forum. On the Agenda of the youth is youth unemployment. There is a Peace Project, there is the issue of Travel Freedom – we really have no recipe book.

THE ACTION ITSELF WHEN TRIED IS ALREADY A CONTRIBUTION TO THE FUTURE OF EUROPE
– he said.
The 150 people will meet for 30 days here. We will then make sure they continue the story in their own countries.

Among the organizers of this election process will be:
- The Network of The European Youth Council,
- The Network of The Forum Alpbach,
- The help of Franz Vranitzky and the Yoyh-Karlprize Aachen social network
all these will be involved. We want most participants to be from Civil Society not to get a selection of Socialists and Christian Democrat networks. We prefer unaffiliated thinkers that were not yet indoctrinated by old ideas.

Where are we? What do we think? Three weeks of day and night of this is a first. Up to now such mind storms lasted only 3-4 days with maximum a 5th day thrown in.

The University of Vienna has its own Jubilee next year. With all this coming to Vienna next year – it is all very attractive.
We hope for a positive dialogue between the political and social platforms.

Q FROM A RUSSIAN JOURNALIST – It brought the following answer:

The age group – 18 to 28 and Russia is a very important part of this dialogue. WE ARE CONVINCED THAT EUROPE WITHOUT RUSSIA IS UNTHINKABLE. The extent of the Europe we envision includes eastwards Kazakhstan. So we have many cultures and there must be solutions to new conflicts.

The Location – A Schloss near Vienna was mentioned but I did not note it correctly and did not get yet to check on it.
the time is June-July 2015.

Q FROM AN AUSTRIAN JOURNALIST (I think from the Falter): What about the young people that were not born in Europe?
The strong influence from the Arab Space. Will such be invited as observers, but will those born in Europe be part of the discussion? It is not about language – it is about living together.

A. The people elected to be participants will include representatives of immigration.
Mr. Katzmair: The renaissance involved the Islamic Culture with the Greco-Roman Europe.
Minister Mahrer: There are hundreds of thousands young people social entrepreneurs in Europe.

Q. On the Islamic Law in Austria.

A. The Vienna Congress did forbid slavery and it talked of Human Rights. Yet now, 70 years since the end of WWII and the official end of Nazism, 60 years after the Austria State Treaty and we encounter negative attitudes. So, this is part of our trying to learn from history and see how the young look to the future. The young who not exactly remember the past.

There are four aspects to the Islamic Law Issue. These include the demand their communities to be run according to their own law and want the Islamic organization to be recognized as in charge of carrying them out. They want the creation of an Islamic religious faculty and want to be funded by interested outsiders.

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